Meet Kaitlyn and Lauren Zuravel


Kaitlyn and Lauren Zuravel are siblings from Fayetteville, NC. They both attend Terry Sanford High School, where Kaitlyn is a senior and Lauren is a sophomore. They have both participated in Science Fairs since the 2nd grade. Additionally, they enjoy a variety of other hobbies. Kaitlyn plays the flute and is on the lacrosse and swim teams at school. She is also captain of the Science Olympiad team. Lauren plays the flute and is on the lacrosse and tennis teams at school. Both young ladies are active in the Girl Scouts of the USA. Kaitlyn has already completed her Gold Award project, which focused on increasing STEM diversity, and Lauren is working on her Gold Award project this year to save Eastern Box Turtles. 


While their current research focuses on finding solutions for plastic pollution, the sisters are also interested in cyber security. They participate in CyberPatriots, defending operating systems against malware attacks and ensuring that all security measures are updated and working correctly. They credit military volunteers from nearby Fort Bragg with teaching cyber security techniques on the following platforms: Windows 8, Windows 10, Linux, and Packet Tracer.

Kaitlyn discovered her love for STEM in the first grade, thanks to the exciting dinosaur articles featured in Scholastic Magazine. Soon, she was hooked, reading every book about prehistoric creatures in her school's library. That year, she fondly remembers being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She responded, "I want to be a paleontologist." This moment captured her father's attention. He is a former professor of Earth Science and encouraged Kaitlyn to explore her interests, allowing her to integrate STEM opportunities into every family vacation. Over the years, she has explored many areas of science and loved them all, but found that she was most passionate about chemistry and solving problems. 

On the other hand, Lauren was attracted to English and History early on. She credits her competitive spirit for sparking her interest in science and engineering research, noting that she got started in Fairs to beat Kaitlyn at something. However, once engaged, she loved the creativity involved in the engineering design process. She enjoyed that the design process was not bogged down by rigid rules, allowing her to figure out unique solutions. Her passion for English Language arts also comes in handy, as Lauren is the go-to writer on their research team.

This learner's mindset is prevalent in all that Kaitlyn and Lauren do. In reflecting on their experiences in Science and Engineering Fairs, Kaitlyn recalls being terrified the first time she competed at the State and International Levels, worried that her research was inferior because she did not have access to high-tech lab equipment. Looking back, she appreciates that her lack of resources pushed her to develop unique solutions, sometimes building her own testing equipment. She grew beyond competing for competition's sake and embraced learning from each mistake. She noted, "Eventually, I realized that I enjoy the process of learning from mistakes and improving." Her favorite part of Fairs is the social aspect, meeting other like-minded peers that share similar passions.

Lauren recognizes that she was shy growing up, but credits the Science and Engineering Fairs for growing her self-confidence and public speaking skills. For her, the creative process in problem-solving is what drives her to continue. She agrees that it can be discouraging not to succeed and is encouraged by the feeling of coming back and improving, noting that "Setbacks happen for a reason, and that is important."

The siblings completed their research as a team this year, working on continuing Lauren's project from the prior year. The project, "Designing a Bioplastic Material to Replace Polystyrene and Polypropylene in Single-Use Hard Plastics that Rapidly Degrade in Landfill, Freshwater, and Saltwater Environments," focused on designing environmentally friendly, disposable cutlery. Their final product was edible and biodegradable in landfill, freshwater, and saltwater environments. While their project did exceptionally well in competition, making it to the international level, the girls continue their research today. Now, they are analyzing how the molecular bonds of their novel bioplastics change throughout the chemical and thermal degradation. Understanding changes at the molecular level will help them determine their bioplastics' full range of capabilities. They are also considering completing the patent application process for their low-cost, environmentally friendly solution. 

We asked the Zuravel sisters about their experience at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Kaitlyn, who was attending for her 2nd time, lit up immediately, saying, "Going to ISEF in person is just amazing! Walking into the arena, I was overwhelmed - projects spanned as far as I could see in every direction." As she described her experience, it was difficult to tell what inspired her the most. Still, some of her highlights included meeting other researchers with similar interests, seeing student-led research making a difference in the field of science and engineering, and learning about the broad range of research categories and interests that students are capable of exploring whether they have access to a particle accelerator (which she noted that one student did) or they were building prototypes in their kitchen at home. 

Lauren attended for her first time this year, virtually, and mentioned that she was a little jealous that Kaitlyn attended in person the prior year. She remembers the judging process being nerve-racking, noting the feeling of importance by having an international set of judges imparted on her.

We asked each young lady to provide one piece of advice for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering, and they responded as follows:

"If you are not sure whether you like STEM or not, just try it. It might not be your thing, but you might discover that you love it. You don't need access to high-tech lab equipment. You just need to research a topic that interests you. Science Fair is an excellent way to explore many different topics, meet new people, and figure out what you want to do when you grow up. The key is being passionate about your work and sharing what you learned and why it's important to you. And to all the young ladies out there, I challenge you to get involved in research. Your creativity will bring new perspectives to solving problems, which is the key to driving innovation. So, give it a try and have fun!" - Kaitlyn

"Do not get discouraged when something doesn't go right. This year it took us like 15 times to even find something that worked. Then, we worked to make our solution even better. Significant research doesn't always turn out the way you expect. An incorrect hypothesis is just as important as it leads you to dive a little deeper and discover even more answers. The only thing you are going to regret is not sticking with it. Besides, you never know what awesome discovery is right around the corner! "- Lauren

Their team project won the following awards at the International Fair:

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
First Physical Science Award of $2,000
ENEV052T — Designing a Bioplastic Material to Replace Polystyrene and Polypropylene in Single-Use Hard Plastics that Rapidly Degrades in Landfill, Freshwater, and Saltwater Environments

Award to attend NC State Engineering Summer Camp
ENEV052T — Designing a Bioplastic Material to Replace Polystyrene and Polypropylene in Single-Use Hard Plastics that Rapidly Degrades in Landfill, Freshwater, and Saltwater Environments

Arizona State University ISEF Scholarship
ENEV052T — Designing a Bioplastic Material to Replace Polystyrene and Polypropylene in Single-Use Hard Plastics that Rapidly Degrades in Landfill, Freshwater, and Saltwater Environments