Greenwich girl changes lives

Greenwich High School junior Olivia Hallisey at the Google Science Fair award ceremony.  Courtesy of techtimes.com

Greenwich High School junior Olivia Hallisey at the Google Science Fair award ceremony. Courtesy of techtimes.com

Greenwich High School junior Olivia Hallisey improved the current Ebola virus detection test by discovering a stabilizing agent when using fibroin, a protein present in silk. With the support of her science research class, Olivia’s contributions have become an inspiration to many students, as well as an important scientific discovery.
In the wake of the Ebola outbreak, the number of victims inspired Olivia to revamp the current extensive process associated with Ebola detection by creating a more effective and accessible procedure. This procedure can be used not only for Ebola, but also for HIV, Lyme Disease, Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever.
“Current methods of Ebola detection cost up to $1,000, take several hours to produce a result, require complex instrumentation and trained medical personnel, often can’t diagnose a patient until they are symptomatic, and require constant unbroken refrigeration from point of manufacture to point of use,” Olivia said.

Greenwich High School junior Olivia Hallisey explaining her research. Courtesy of iq.intel.com
Greenwich High School junior Olivia Hallisey explaining her research. Courtesy of iq.intel.com.

Ebola ravages the people of many remote areas where it is nearly impossible for doctors to not break “the cold chain,” which is the continuous refrigeration required. As a result, outbreaks can occur much more rapidly.
In Olivia’s science research class, each student chooses an independent project, based on a topic they are passionate about, to work on throughout high school. Once the students select their topicthey research and attempt to solve the problem at hand with the guidance of their teacher.
Olivia’s science research teacher at Greenwich High School, Mr. Andrew Bramante, helped her through the process of her project from its inception.
“Mr. Bramante gave me incredible encouragement and support throughout my research process,” Olivia said. “ He helped me think through the challenges I encountered, because in research there are always setbacks.”
Convent of the Sacred Heart’s science research program, run by Upper School science teacher Ms. Mary Musolino, encourages students to find a problem that interests them within the scientific field and strive to improve it throughout three years of classes.
“Olivia’s work demonstrates the potential of high school students who devote a significant amount of time to science research,”  Ms. Musolino said.  “For example, CSH students have worked alongside researchers in major research institutions and have made important contributions to the health, engineering, and environmental fields.”
Olivia decided to focus her project on improving the current detection methods used for Ebola.
“I wanted a simple solution to a complex problem,” Olivia said.
Olivia set out to develop a medical diagnostic device. She used silk as a stabilizing agent, which enables the device to no longer need to remain at a certain temperature, making it easier to use and administer.
In addition to improving the temperature sensitivity of the device, Olivia also decreased the time it took to receive a result.
The original test took up to 12 hours to receive a result. However, Olivia’s test takes less than 30 minutes. The result is based on a color change shown on the Ebola Assay Card, and it can provide a diagnosis when the patient is in less advanced stages, according to Olivia’s research. This allows the virus to be treated sooner and decreases the chances of it spreading.
“Without early diagnosis and treatment, up to 9o percent of individuals infected with Ebola will die,” Olivia said.  “With early diagnosis and treatment that number can be reduced by over 50 percent.”
In order to complete her project, Olivia ordered silkworm cocoons online, and was able to order the reagents from a company that manufactures them. The Ebola Assay Card is made of photo paper and filter paper, which she purchased at Staples.
Greenwich High School junior Olivia Hallisey at the Google Science Fair award ceremony. Courtesy of techtimes.com
Greenwich High School junior Olivia Hallisey at the Google Science Fair award ceremony. Courtesy of techtimes.com

Olivia’s research won the first place prize at the Google Science Fair, a contest for individuals ages 13 through 18 who showcased their projects in science and technology this year. Olivia traveled to the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California and met other students from around the world who also participated in the contest.
The Google Science Fair is a global event in which students can submit their projects online, from February 18 to May 18. The winners of each age group are then announced September 19 through September 21.
“It was an exciting experience to travel to Google and meet so many students from all over the world,” Olivia said. “Our backgrounds and projects were all very different, and yet what we all had in common was the goal that our work might contribute to a more hopeful future.”
In hopes to eventually use the detection test in the medical field, Olivia’s next step is to continue to test her Ebola Assay Card.  She is also currently working on broadening her research.
Olivia hopes to become a doctor one day and work with Doctors Without Borders, an organization that sends doctors to foreign countries in need of medical assistance. She encourages other girls to work hard in school, pursue jobs in the scientific field, and believe in themselves.
“Find something that you are passionate about, or interested in, and find a way to connect to that issue,” Olivia said. “Do not get discouraged when there are setbacks – I often learned more from my failed experiments or unexpected results than I did from my short term successes.”
– Nadia Zuaiter, Staff Writer