Noah’s Contribution to Science

Noah Peracciny is a sophomore who has been involved in the RISE program for two years. He participated in science competitions for the first time last year. His project went to Regionals and was approved to go to the State level before COVID cancelled remaining 2020 science competitions. But it would be the 2021 ISEF Science Competition that would be a unique and exciting experience for Noah, making this his best science competition yet!

Noah’s project on Quantifying Virus-infected Air Potato Herbivory was not only successful enough to lead him to the International level of the ISEF Science Competition, but his findings have impactful meaning for big picture problems that could affect native vegetation, Florida ecosystems, and what grows in our own backyards. 

This is a summary of Noah’s project:

“Dioscorea bulbifera, (air potato) is an invasive vine that has a smothering effect on native vegetation in Florida as well as other southeastern states in America. In 2012, a beetle (Lilioceris cheni) was released as a biocontrol agent for air potato. Since then it has shown great success in controlling the spread and severity of air potato in Florida. Recently two novel viruses have been found to co-infect air potato.” 

“In this study, I compared the leaf surface area and leaf area consumed (by Lilioceris cheni) of air potato samples naturally infected with these viruses to uninfected air potato samples. Air potato leaves were collected from a research site and analysed with the imaging software “LeafByte”. This program outputs the leaf surface area, area of leaf surface consumed, and percent of leaf consumed from an image of a single leaf.” 

“…the data from the infected leaves can be compared to the uninfected leaves to produce a conclusion. The effects of these novel viruses on the herbivory patterns of the air potato leaf beetle and the leaf area are unknown and could potentially be useful to measure the impact of these newly discovered viruses.”

This link will take you to Noah’s virtual project board where you can read and view Noah’s project details, data and findings.

In an interview with Noah, he educated me on the importance of this subject, the newness of the information, and the impacts that the findings would have on us.

“The air potato plant is an invasive species that damages the vegetation around it. However, it is now being infected by a virus. These viruses were only discovered in 2019 and the beetles (Lilioceris cheni) that were released in 2012 as a biocontrol agent (to help control the overgrowth of the air potato plant) are not eating the infected air potato; as they do eat the uninfected air potato plant. So, if this virus spreads over all the air potato, then would the beetles still be eating the air potato plant at the same rate; keeping the invasive overgrowth under control?”

Noah goes on to explain, “The air potato prefers a wetland habitat, so they tend to grow only in the south-eastern areas; of states such as Florida and Alabama. But if climate change continues, the air potato is expected to double its territory, expanding into more states [as west as Texas and as north as North Carolina].”

Photo adapted from:

This expansion will not just take an invasive species further north to potentially danger more vegetation, but take the virus with it!

Noah’s research shows, “…invasive species are estimated to cause damage in excess of $120 billion to the United States annually; $46 billion+ due to invasive plants.” This is not just an ecological problem, but could be an economical problem too!

Noah has spoken to Dr. Carey Minteer of the University of Florida regarding his project and findings, and she confirmed that her students’ lab findings have matched the fieldwork findings Noah’s project produced.

“Science competitions offer a proxy to share research on a broader scale,” commented Mr. Croxton, Noah’s RISE/Experimental Science teacher. Mr. Croxton goes on to compliment Noah’s integrity as a science student with a healthy motive in participating in science competitions. “Many programs and students equate prizes and awards with success. In fact, I’m convinced that some students tailor their project to aim for the largest special award cash prizes in the fair…which is fine if money or recognition is the sole mark of success. But I’m convinced that this is like the behavior of the student whose sole concern in school is attaining a high GPA; it looks impressive at first, but when you realize the behavior is actually maladaptive because the student has little interest for or investment in what they are doing, the relevance of authenticity to motivation is clear.”

“The RISE approach to service asserts that, ‘…helping students learn how to love others is no less important than helping them to develop gifts that will contribute to their callings and careers.’ So how does one love others using science research? Simple. There’s opportunity to put helpful information into the science community,” and Mr. Croxton sees much merit in sharing Noah’s research conclusions.

Mr. Croxton shares that “there were many new challenges Noah faced in participating in the science competition this year,” mostly due to it being virtual. “Everything was a new format.” And Noah commented that if it were not for Mr. Croxton’s support, he was not sure if he would have made it through this complicated new technical process. 

Noah and Mr. Croxton behind the scenes creating his presentation video

There were few advantages to doing the science competition virtually, though the work, data, and findings became more important than the showmanship of presenting a project to a small audience of judges. This was one of the many advantages to Noah, as his contribution to science was valuable, and no theatrical flair was needed.

Check out Noah’s two minute presentation video:

What’s next for Noah? He will compete virtually in the International Competition on May 6, and hopes to get the results of the competition before the end of the school year. Prizes range from ribbons and plaques to $100,000 in scholarship funds.

When I asked Noah what he did with the prize money he’s already received, he replied, “Invested it in AMC Theater stock.”