Anna McReynolds, 16, not only wrote an extra paper, but spent every day in the lab watering plants for her project "Sand Prairies: Restoring An Endangered Biome." Her work proved worthwhile, and she earned the chance to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Indianapolis.
But believe it or not, McReynolds claims she's not a science whiz.
"Science has never been a big thing for me," said the daughter of Kim McReynolds and Marty McReynolds of Sikeston. "This is really uncharacteristic of me."
McReynolds worked with an endangered species of plant that only grows in sand prairie biomes -- communities such as grassland or deserts characterized chiefly by the dominant forms of plant life and the prevailing climate -- in this area for her science project, which all Sikeston students must do in either ninth or 10th grade.
Her science teacher, Wanda Throop, knew that she was capable of doing something big for her project. "Anna is a very smart little girl and she's very thorough and consistent," Throop said.
But no big ideas came up, and McReynolds was originally going to do a project on fruit flies. In fact, she had already written and turned in her paper when Throop approached her with an idea she had seen a newspaper article on a sand prairie area that is being preserved in the Benton area.
"She thought I could go really far with it. It was something new, close by and local, " McReynolds said. "A lot had been done with the fruit fly idea and she wanted me to do something original."
With the amount of work she knew McReynolds would put into the project, Throop said she was a great candidate for the idea. "I knew that it was a great idea because it was different and I knew Anna would do a good job with the idea," Throop said.
Throop gave her an extension for her research paper, and the duo drove to Benton to meet with Bob Gillespie, a natural history biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He took them on a tour of the area, identified species of plants, answered their questions and gave them some general information, McReynolds said.
For instance, Gillespie informed them that an endangered species made the land its habitat. He gave her a jar of the seeds -- stylisma pickeringi, also known as the Patterson bindweed -- which only exists in the sand prairie biome.
"He didn't have a lot of information on it, but suggested I work with it," McReynolds said.
Throop said this made the project all the more unique -- that it was an endangered species trying to be re-established in its biome.
McReynolds developed tests to measure the best way to get the seeds to sprout. Since the plants thrive in nutrient poor areas without a lot of rain -- quite harsh environments -- she assumed the seeds would develop a tough seed coat.
One test she created was one no one had ever tried before -- the "magnetic stir method." The process included filling a beaker with sand, seed and a magnet to stir them. It is a much less labor intensive strategy than cutting the seed coat with a scalpel.
"It rotates the seeds, which agitates and scarifies the seeds," McReynolds said. "It was my way of representing the environment they come from -- blowing and rolling around in the sand."
Although the method didn't work in this instance, she found that an incision along the lateral side of the seed made it sprout the fastest.
She spent every day in the lab, watering the plants, but all of her efforts were rewarded. McReynolds qualified at the school's science fair to compete at the Southeast Missouri Regional Science Fair at Cape Girardeau, in addition to winning first place in environmental science and the Murray Sullivan award.
McReynolds continued her winning streak at regionals. There, she placed first in environmental science, among other awards and qualified to compete at the ISEF, where over 1,400 students from the United States and 47 countries competed.
During the 20 years Throop has been in charge of science fairs in Sikeston, McReynolds is the eighth student to qualify for internationals. And since Throop retired last week, going to internationals was bittersweet.
"Isn't it neat that the very last year I get to do this, my last science fair, I get to go again for the very last time," she said.
Although McReynolds did not win any awards in Indianapolis, the experience was most important. "I didn't really have the intention of winning anything -- I just wanted to go to learn and meet people," she said.