Ana Huesa’s connection to the UNCP Kids in the Garden (KIG) Program has blossomed into exciting, award-winning research. One of her research accolades was the Army/Navy Award at the Region IV Science and Engineering Fair, hosted by UNCP. After winning last year’s District 4 competition for the North Carolina Student Academy of Science (NCSAS) and then placing second at the NCSAS state competition, Ana’s poster qualified for the national poster session for the American Junior Academy of Science (AJAS), where it is currently on display -- https://projectboard.world/ajas/project/using-low-cost-avalanche-rescue-system-to-track-honeybees-within-a-range-of-6-meters . The AJAS is sponsored by the renowned National Association of Academies of Science (NAAS), and its professional counterpart is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Ana’s poster, “Using Low Cost Avalanche Rescue System to Track Honeybees Within a Range of 6 Meters,” joins a select group of posters from across the nation and from across nine disciplines in the sciences, including animal and plant science, chemistry and physics, and medicine. Her poster is one of only 26 posters selected from the Engineering discipline.
Ana is currently a junior in the Research in Chemistry Program at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM), a two-year high school that enrolls gifted students and empowers them to excel in the STEM disciplines, and it is distinctive, not only for its unique emphasis on science and technology, but as the only high school included in the 17-campus UNC System. Ana is not the first member of her family to attend NCSSM (which she loves); her two older sisters, Julia and Isabel, graduated from the campus.
Ana’s personal journey to research began in her summer before seventh grade, when she joined the Kids in the Garden (KIG) program. Funded by Burroughs-Wellcome, the KIG program is a STEM program for public school students in the 7th-12th grades. Faculty mentors empower their KIG students to investigate honeybees and pollinator ecology at the UNC Pembroke campus garden. But Ana’s first research experience occurred in eighth grade, when she began working with her KIG faculty mentor Dr. Grant Pilkay of Fayetteville Technical Community College. Together they explored the use of harmonic radar to track European honeybees (Apis mellifera). Her winning research is the culmination of many trials over the past three years.
When asked about her research experiences, Ana had this to share:
What surprised you most about scientific research?
“I want to say what surprised me most was the amount of time it takes. A lot of times when you see these inspirational videos and talks you get to see the end result, which is always really exciting, but oftentimes we don’t get to see what goes on behind that, and the amount of time you spend reading papers, and testing and failing and trying again, but that is part of the scientific method -- is just going back and trying over and over again.”
You presented your research poster at a national (AJAS/AAA) science conference. Was this very exciting, and did you get to meet other presenters at the conference?
“It was obviously virtual, but it was a really exciting experience to see young scientists from all over. . . it was still really exciting to meet people from Washington or Maryland, or even South Carolina, right below us. You know, it gave me a lot of connections that I was really excited about.”
What was your fondest or most lasting impression from your research conference?
“Maybe seeing the future of research, I suppose. A lot of times when we picture scientists, we picture the same kind of man in a white coat, a white lab coat. But it was really exciting to see, I guess, kids and teens from all over the country with completely different backgrounds, all working towards the same goal of making our world better and making science more accessible to everyone.”
What is the most important finding of your study?
“. . . We were able to make a tracker that was approximately 17% of a honeybee’s body weight, and could be tracked from up to six meters away. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you think about how large a meter is, it’s pretty exciting for us, especially since we were able to do it at such a low cost. Normally, people involved in tracking insects use military grade radar and have several million dollars, but we were working on creating something that is accessible to your average beekeeper. . . We were using a system called Recco, which is an avalanche rescue system. It was donated to us by Clemson University. That’s essentially the radar unit, and to create the tracker, we were using mainly Schottky diodes and recycled computer parts. . . We were trying to obviously make these trackers as small as possible for a very small insect. . . Our ideal would probably be 10-15% of their mass. But I think we improved a lot.”
What was the most challenging part of your honeybee study?
“Probably either creating the trackers, because as I mentioned, they’re [honeybees] so small, and they can be very finicky. . . Working with live organisms is always unpredictable.”
What was the most fascinating and fun part of your study?
“It would probably have been working with bees, again, even though they’re so challenging and they’re so unpredictable. That’s what makes research exciting is to see what happens.”
Do you want to become a scientist?
“I would say yeah. You know, my mom is a biologist. I go to the school of science and math. And it really is the closest thing to magic that we have in our world.”
Ana has always had a background in science. As a child, she enjoyed playing in her mother's lab, which was like a playground for her.
“I would say that Kids in the Garden was my first true experience with science up close. And I think that’s what really solidified my interest in science, and the reason why I’m at the school of science and math, and why I’m continuing research.
I don’t think I’ve told them [KIG Program] directly how much they’ve really changed my, I guess, my life at this point. I remember after coming back after my first competition for the regional level -- North Carolina Science and Engineering fair -- and telling my mom, this is the best experience I’ve ever had.”
If you could share one piece of advice with other students who are interested in doing research, what advice would you share?
“Be patient and don’t compare yourself to others. I remember being really intimidated at my first conference and competitions . . . looking around at the projects around me and seeing people finding ways to diagnose breast cancer early, and thinking, oh gosh, this project sounds a lot more interesting or advanced than tracking a honeybee. But in the end, I did just as well as them. And you have to really believe in your research for people to listen to you and care, and to keep going. Yeah, don’t compare yourself to others, and just focus on what you’re doing.”
Ana Huesa plans to continue her research on honeybees by way of the Kids in the Garden Program. Her mother is Dr. Maria Santisteban, a professor of Biology at UNC Pembroke.