Inspiring Innovation in Student Research      

Meet Jack Bivins

Jack Bivins is 13 years old and lives in New Hanover County, NC.  Originally born in Davis California, Jack’s family moved to North Carolina when he was 4 years old.  Jack attended elementary school at New Horizons Elementary and now attends Murray Middle School.  Outside of school Jack loves to surf and hang out with friends.  Jack also volunteers at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. As a student in grades 3-5 Jack participated in science and engineering fairs and in grade 6 he participated in Science Olympiad at Murray Middle.  

Jack became familiar with science and engineering fairs at New Horizons Elementary where the fairs were something common in the school.  When considering what types of projects he would be interested in completing Jack consistently chose animal related research, specifically focused on conservation.  While the adults around him let Jack know that research on animals requires additional safety protocols and review, he felt that he would do his best work if he followed his passion. Understanding that working with animals would make the pathway harder, he determined that it would be worth it in the end. Jack’s passion for this work paid off, leading him to the state level science and engineering fair each year that he completed research related to animal conservation.  Reflecting on his experience at New Horizons Elementary, Jack wants to “give a shot out” to the science fair coordinator, Christina Satterfield. While the school overall was very supportive of the science fairs, Ms. Christina worked tirelessly to help him get his animal projects approved. He feels that she went above and beyond in her efforts to support and encourage him and the other students through their participation in the science fairs. 

Jack credits his science and engineering fair experiences with helping him to connect his interest in animal science to work in conservation.  Additionally, he feels that the fairs improved his public speaking skills and helped him to understand how to take and apply constructive criticism to improve his research.  He noted, “It was really cool to get to speak to professional scientists, I knew that their input would help me to improve my projects.  In 3rd grade I was really scared of the judging, but it was great to get input from people that do the stuff that you want to do.”   

He also remembers that the fairs were filled with different people who did a lot of different things. This helped him to see the possibilities and to also nail down his passion for conservation.  Having to follow the veterinary and safety forms required to do the research and compete in the fairs helped him to understand what a researcher would have to do to complete a larger scale study.

Jack recalls that the varying levels of fairs were each a unique experience. He remembers being really nervous at his first school level fair saying, “it was fun, but there was a lot of pressure”.  As he moved through the regional level, he felt that the judging really helped him. Finally reaching the state fair he again felt the pressure, but in retrospect thinks that much of this was in his own head. He feels that he learned from each experience and that this helped it to feel easier to design his experiments and present his research each year that he competed. He also remembers that at each fair he got to meet a variety of people doing a lot of different work.

Jack competed in science and engineering fairs three years in a row, starting in third grade with a project that focused on the sense of smell in snakes.  The results of this research did not support his hypothesis, which is common in scientific experiments and considered an important result.  Based on feedback that he received from judges at the regional competition that year, Jack reflects back on this first project and believes that he had too many variables. He noted that knowing what he knows now, he would refine the experiment if he were to revisit this work.  During this 3rd grade year Jack was awarded the Young Naturalist Award by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. This was very cool for him because he loves the Museum. The Museum’s Naturalist’s Center’s coordinator reached out to Jack’s mother about the award. Jack’s mom shared how much he loved the Museum and they were invited to stop by the Center to meet the coordinator. During the visit Jack was also introduced to the Naturalist’s Center’s curator.  The curator took time to talk to Jack about the path he himself had taken in school, as well as research he worked on, and what led him to the Museum. He also gave Jack suggestions on how to prepare for a career in environmental science/conservation. 

His fourth grade year his project was called “Drab or Fab, Where do the Keets Eat?”  The project looked at whether captive bred lorikeets were attracted to bright or drab colors when eating.  His design included feeding the lorikeets in two different color bowls and recording whether their behavior indicated a preference based on color.  His data showed that 90% of the time the lorikeets ate from the bright colored bowl first.  He feels that this information about their habits can help conservation groups to better understand how to support lorikeets.  In order to complete this project Jack got to work closely with and meet many different members of the staff at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher where his actual experiment took place. While he had already been volunteering at the Aquarium, he was able to meet a diverse group of staff that he had not met through his volunteering (curator, animal husbandry/care staff, executive director).

The project he completed in 5th grade, “Turtle’s Got a Brand New Bag”, is the one he desires to revisit and continue to research.  The project sought to develop and test materials that could be used to replace single use plastic bags to help protect sea turtles and other marine life.  He used 2 different types of materials, one with a corn starch base and one with a gelatin base.  He tested these materials for strength, flexibility, digestibility, and cost, performing the same tests on a single use plastic bag. His experiment involved immersing the materials in a simulation of sea turtles’ digestive material (a mix of diluted hydrochloric acid & enzymes). The digestion test duration was almost a week, similar to the typical digestion time for the sea turtle before the undigested material would become harmful to the animal. Both of his materials passed his testing. The single use plastic bag was not digested, leading Jack to conclude that the proposed replacement materials may be a viable option for replacing single use plastic bags and are worthy of more research. While completing this science fair project, Jack got to meet and interview a Coastal Wildlife Diversity Biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission who has a focused expertise on sea turtles. Not only did this researcher help to support Jack’s research for the fair project, she also invited him to do a sea turtle necropsy with her to learn more about sea turtles and the scientific process of logging sea turtle information.

Jack won awards at the state level fairs each year that he participated, winning the Young Naturalist Award his 3rd grade year, the Exemplary Project Award his 4th grade year, and the Grand Award  - Dewey and Susan Ryals Memorial Award for the Elementary Division his 5th grade year.

Jack is currently in 7th grade at Murray Middle School.  While most extracurricular activities have been suspended due to the COVID19 shutdown, Jack is participating in the Murray Middle School Theatre’s play, “10 Ways to Survive Life in Quarantine”. During the shutdown, Jack continues to learn about animals and conservation by attending online offerings through various conservation groups. Jack continues to volunteer at the Fort Fisher Aquarium in NC.  Last year he was part of a mini-documentary with the team at the Aquarium that talked about conservation.  Following this experience he was invited to speak at an AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) conference in Wilmington, NC.   

In the future Jack wants to work at a zoo where he feels he would have the resources that would allow him to work in conservation and to travel and work with other conservation groups.  He would focus on the impact of humans on animals and changes that could support conservation. He is considering a degree in zoology with a minor in psychology, in the hopes of following this pathway to continue to work with animals.   

We asked Jack to provide 1 piece of advice for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering. His advice was,

“Do what you love, even if it may be a little bit harder than what people might think is a classic project.  I wanted to do the animal projects and I feel like I did better because it is what I love, so do what you love.”

Meet Amari' Walker

Amari’ Walker grew up in Pender County, NC.  She is currently 17 years old and enrolled at Pender HS.  She attended Elementary School at Malpass Corner and Middle Schools at West Pender Middle.  She has lived in Pender county her whole life.  She is passionate about cheerleading, crafting, and school and also owns her own business making cell phone and Airpod cases. 

Meet Sai Varanasi

Sai Varanasi is an NC Science and Engineering Fair Alumna who lived in Pinehurst, NC through her middle school years.  She now lives in Chapel Hill.  A graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM),  Sai is a second year mechanical engineering student at Georgia Tech where she is involved in research and also holds a position as a TA. While her professional interests focus on Energy and Sustainability, in her personal time she likes to bake and to play the tabla (Indian subcontinent Hand Drums).

Meet Abe Harris

Abe (Abraham) Harris is currently a 4th grade student at Lacy Elementary.  His favorite thing to do is to play football.  On his flag football team he plays center.  One of his favorite things to eat is Gouda cheese.

When thinking about what initially got him interested in science Abe credited his parents, but also noted that he feels that when he engaged in science in school it is more interactive than math and reading which makes it fun for him.  He is especially interested in physics and enjoys thinking about how it impacts sports.  

Meet Ana Ratanaphruks

Ana Ratanaphruks grew up in the triangle area in Morrisville, NC and is a recent graduate of Wake STEM Early College and also the online program at the NC School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM).  As a child Ana was very interested in the arts and humanities and did not like science and math. She attributes this disinterest to having had a limited understanding of what STEM entails, specifically associating STEM with robotics and microscopes.  As a young adult entering college her interests have evolved significantly and she now is interested in engineering fields and particularly likes materials science, applied mathematics, and industrial engineering.  She appreciates having had early access to courses at NC State University as part of her early college experience, finding the courses challenging and the opportunity to meet a lot of people enjoyable. 

Meet Lauryn Sanders


Lauryn Sanders is a rising sophomore at North Wake College and Career Academy. Though she is in 10th grade, Lauryn has already been working as a volunteer at Marbles Kids Museum for 4 years. When asked about her experience with Marbles Teen Play Corps, Lauryn commented: 

“I love kids and I love science.  Being able to encourage kids through play is something that I love.  I have been doing it for 4 years and I hope to continue doing it and some day work there.” 

In addition to school and her volunteer work, Lauryn also participates in Girl Scouts and the MSEN pre-college program through the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University.  A participant in MSEN since 6th grade, Lauryn enjoys her time spent at Saturday Academies and in the summer camps.