Award-Winning Independent Research Project

Kit Shiells and Mark O'ConnorCongratulations to Katherine "Kit" Shiells '22 whose independent research project, A Study of Popular Artificial Turf Surfaces' Ability to Sustain Bacterial Growth and Associated Health Ramifications, garnered awards not only from the 2021 Virtual Northern Virginia Science and Engineering Fair, but also from the American Association of University Women, the DC Branch of the American Society of Microbiology, and the Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Kit's project is a continuation of her middle school study of surface temperature of both artificial and natural outdoor playing surfaces. For this year's project, she extended her data gathering over a period of 21 days in the summer, examining not only temperature, but also various artificial infill materials and E. coli cultivation rates for each.

She worked with O'Connell biology teacher, Mr. Mark O'Connor, and chemistry teacher, Mrs. Jill Figueiras, to set up and conduct necessary lab work, using school facilities and tools, as needed. In the end, Kit's project showed that natural grass harbored significantly more bacteria growth than artificial surfaces. Among artificial turf, her research did find some E. coli cultivation on samples with natural infill, especially cork. The typical crumb rubber infill showed very limited growth.

What's next? Kit hopes to be able to work with a university next year to take this project to the next level. Her goal is to look deeper into specific carcinogens and volatile emissions of crumb rubber infill, and to investigate new "Water Turf" technologies.  

"Kit's project required her to engage and interact with companies that produced the product (turf field), along with the various substances used for the infill," said Mr. O'Connor.  "This whole process showed an enormous amount of initiative on her part, and she has demonstrated hard work, originality, ambition, perseverance and scientific curiosity that has shined through this research project. She is a true representative of what an O'Connell student can achieve with focus, vision and determination."