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Montville student delves into science to learn about his genetic disorder

Groton — For Kyle Tempesta of Montville, the high school science fair mentoring competition Tuesday at CURE Innovation Commons was personal.

It wasn't that Tempesta, who won the competition along with science partner Courtney Michaud of Norwich, carried a grudge over from another science fair. What he was carrying, instead, was the same rare genetic disorder — called LCHAD deficiency — that his science project addressed in great detail.

Tempesta explained that the inherited condition, which occurs because of a genetic mutation, can sap people of energy and, by the teen years, often leads to heart problems. When the blood sugar gets dangerously low, he explained, the body starts breaking down muscle tissue, similar to starvation.

"It's hard for (body) fat to be used as a source of energy," he said. "It can be degenerative and possibly fatal."

Tempesta and Michaud, both seniors in the biotechnology program at Norwich Tech, said they have been working on their project for about two years. Last year, they had used fruit flies to create a model to study the condition, and this year they switched to roundworms, whose metabolism more closely resembles humans, Michaud said.

The two-hour science fair included 35 students presenting 21 projects, said Norwich Tech biotech teacher Jesse Marin, who helped organize the event with Kim Kelly, director of the Innovation Commons. The idea was to give juniors and seniors at the tech school feedback from judges, all of whom were Pfizer Inc. scientists, in advance of next week's statewide science fair at Quinnipiac University.

Projects covered a wide spectrum, including biotech, health tech, pre-electrical engineering and applied engineering. Specific presentations included robotics, diabetes, mental illness and alcohol addiction.

"Students are getting to see what it's like to work in a lab," said Marin, who has taught at Norwich Tech for four years and heads the biotech program. "It's a unique opportunity to do college-level research."

Among the students were Emerald Haller of Preston and Hailey Bill of Sprague, who did a project involving Venus flytraps; Kalli Campbell of Uncasville and Taylor Plante of Jewett City, who were trying to change views about people with autism; Genesis Taverez of New London and Kaitlin Reen of Plainfield, who tried to reduce the stigma behind obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Michael Reid of Lebanon and Matthew Coloutier of Sprague, who created a Tesla coil that uses a magnetic field to perform lightning-like wireless power transfers.

"It's good for kids to see what a scientist looks like," Marin said.

"It was a terrific turnout of mentors, about double last year," Kelly added.

The event fits in with the statewide organization BioCT's goal to further science, technology, engineering and math education in Connecticut in the hopes of building and retaining scientific talent in the state. BioCT previously was known as Connecticut United for Research Excellence, or CURE.

In addition to the first-place winners, prizes went to Ashley Czech of Colchester for a project about Fragile X Syndrome, an autism-spectrum disease; Debbie Garcia of Norwich and Chloe Guzman of Pawcatuck, to reduce stigmas around bipolar disorder, and Makayla Carson of Waterford and Emily Cherwin of Norwich, a project on dissociative identity disorder, which can cause people to take on multiple personas.


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