Jane Cox, international CUSEF winner, receives additional award in Finland

For over 25 years the McKay School and the BYU-Public School Partnership have sponsored the annual Central Utah Science and Engineering Fair, giving students a chance to investigate their own scientific interests with the potential to advance to compete at an international level. This year Timpview High School senior Jane Cox won both locally and internationally, and she continues to collect awards.

Last March, Cox was one of seven CUSEF student winners invited to advance and compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles. At ISEF, Cox was awarded Best of Category and First Place in the Earth and Planetary Science category for her presentation. She was also offered $8,000 and a trip to Helsinki, Finland to attend the European Union (EU) Contest for Young Scientists to be held in September.

Cox’s project, titled “Using Amino Acid Analysis to Distinguish Chondritic Meteorites from Rocks Launched into Space from Earth,” describes a model for testing claims of extraterrestrial life on Mars. Her interest in this topic evolved from wondering how scientists could determine whether rocks found on Mars containing cyanobacteria were actually only dislodged rocks from Earth. Cyanobacteria live in water and are photosynthetic.

In her award-winning model, Cox used amino acid analysis to distinguish whether a meteorite’s amino acids are simple or complex. A complex set of amino acids implies that the meteorite originated from Earth. [quote content="We have found that the science fair helps many students discover their major, and in many cases their future careers." width="40" float="right"]

"My project is a way to reject claims of life on other planets," Cox said, quoted in an article by the Salt Lake Tribune. "Amino acids have been found in meteorites before, and they’ve been very controversial. . . .  Here’s a way to see if [the amino acids are] actually extraterrestrial." Her father, Dr. Paul Cox, a nationally recognized botanist and BYU professor, mentored Cox throughout the development of her project.

Along with two other ISEF winners, Cox was invited to the EU Contest as an observer. Thus she was caught by surprise in Helsinki when officials awarded her the European Southern Observatory Prize and an all-expenses-paid trip to the European Southern Observatory in Chile. According to the Tribune article, Cox stated, “I was really stunned to win a prize in Helsinki because we were told that as Americans we would be observers there, not entered into the competition.”

Cox will also have the opportunity to visit with European Space Agency officials in Munich, Germany before traveling to the observatory.  She continued her statement to the Tribune, “I am excited to go to Munich and then Chile to learn from their astronomers and see their large telescopes. They are leaders in the discovery of new planets outside of our solar system.”

CUSEF commends Cox for her hard work and diligence. “The main objective of this fair is to spark an interest in science with the students,” said Lisa Clarke, CUSEF coordinator. “We have found that the science fair helps many students discover their majors and, in many cases, their future careers.”

Students from the BYU-Public School Partnership school districts; charter schools, private schools, and home schools within the Partnership district boundaries; and also the Canyons School District are invited to compete in CUSEF every year. In addition to cash prizes and the opportunity to advance, scholarships are awarded by BYU, UVU, and Westminster College. The next CUSEF competition will be held March 26-29, 2012 at the BYU Conference Center.

Photo by Chris Detrick

31 October 2011