School science fairs often feature dioramas about Thomas Edison and electricity, poster boards that explain how crystals grow and the always popular vinegar and baking soda volcano.
Bailey Tischer, a 16-year-old junior from San Tan Charter School in Gilbert, took her school’s science fair project to a whole new level with an experiment that may have a real impact on the way diseases can be treated.
Bailey, a Gilbert resident in the school’s gifted program, developed her own electroporation device for the event.
In the real world, this type of device is worth about $2,000 but Bailey figured out how to make a working model for $2.
As Bailey explained, an electroporation device sends a split second of high voltage electricity into a vial containing cells in an attempt to open a cellular membrane to allow vital antibiotics to enter.
“In theory, this research can help cure diseases and illnesses at a much faster rate,” Bailey said, adding that she created her first circuit-based electroporation device in 2019.
Her first device used an Arduino that sent 300 volts of electricity into a vial for 3/10 of a second.
It successfully increased the antibiotic acceptance within the cells and the petri dishes that received the electroporation showed a significant decrease in bacterial growth, Bailey said.
Although Bailey was ready to display her first electroporation device in March 2020, San Tan Charter School had to cancel the annual science fair.
Bailey was also unable to access the laboratory at school because students were learning from home during the fourth quarter.
To help keep her interest in science up and running, Bailey last summer applied and earned a position in Arizona State University’s Science and Engineering Experience (SCENE), a mentoring program for molecular and bio-engineering sciences.
“During the program, I was able to work one-on-one with Professor Nathan Newman to continue to enhance my electroporation research,” Bailey said.
Newman and the other professors involved with the SCENE program were definitely impressed with Bailey and her hard work and perseverance.
“To our delight, Bailey chose an interesting and important question: what factors determine the permeability of cell membranes to biological species? If successful, the results of this experiment will play an important role in the development of new antibiotics, an essential tool in every doctor’s toolkit,” Newman said.
Bailey learned quickly and her persistence consistently paid off, Newman said, adding that the experiment went remarkably well and he is confident that it will provide important and useful answers.
“What Bailey achieved is very impressive for any student, let alone one still in high school. It has been so great having such a talented and enthusiastic student working in our program at Arizona State University.”
When students were able to return to San Tan Charter School last September, Bailey was once again able to access San Tan Charter School’s science lab and continue her research even further and make a new electroporator with $2 worth of supplies.
“My hand-built device successfully electroporated the cells by opening the cellular membrane, allowing antibiotic and DNA to enter the cell. Also, the petri dishes that received electroporation showed a substantial success, proving the device worked,” Bailey said.
Brandon Tauscher, principal at San Tan Charter School, said he will always remember the day when Bailey learned that her experiment was successful.
“She was literally bouncing around the room, beaming with excitement as she proudly told everyone in the office. I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Tauscher said.
“Bailey is just one example of our brilliant student population here at San Tan Charter School,” he added, noting a third of its enrollment comprises gifted students.
The 7th-12th grade Scholar’s Prep Program and K-6 self-contained gifted classrooms “help assist in accomplishing amazing things like Bailey has done this year,” Tauscher added.
“I can’t wait to see where her career takes her into the future.”
San Tan Charter is a K-12 public nonprofit tuition- free charter school. Information: santancharterschool.com.