Samuel Hesse prepares alternate sugar fertilizers.

By Lily Belcher

At the beginning of the year, Durant High School submitted three first-place projects to the Senior Division of the 41st Hillsborough Regional Science and Engineering Fair, two of which were chosen to represent Team Hillsborough at the Florida State Fair.

Durant juniors Aidan Vaughan and Aizlyn Potter studied the role of mycorrhiza on increasing drought resistance in Brassica campestris and were awarded first place in the Plant Sciences category.

“Mycorrhiza is a biofertilizer that has shown to be very beneficial in other studies. We compared the mycorrhiza to a traditional fertilizer and no fertilizer. Our results were pretty shocking, as we found that the control group provided the most plant growth and the most resistance to drought,” explained Potter. “Overall, the STEM fair was a very unique experience that we enjoyed.”

Juniors Carey Bush, Samuel Hesse and Jackson Lahsangah’s project studied the effects of sugar on Lumbricus terrestris and placed first in the Animal Sciences category.

The goal of their project was to find the best sugar level to produce worm casts, which can be used as a natural fertilizer.

“It gives a sense of accomplishment that I was able to help form an original idea, see it tested to completion and watch it be judged. Putting something together that was chosen to go to [the] state competition is farther than I thought we could go, and I am immensely proud to know that somewhere, ink was used to document our names for that,” said Bush.

Seniors Savannah Still and Hannah Burbridge placed first in the Earth and Environmental Science category with their project on anthropogenic effects on aquatic life.

“Our project examined the relationship between destruction of vegetation around retention ponds and the resulting aquatic health of the pond. We measured biodiversity and nutrient levels to determine the respective health of the ponds,” said Still. “We chose this topic partly because we wanted something hands-on and interesting that dealt with aquatic life. The other part was because we genuinely value the health of our local aquatic ecosystems as they truly contribute to the health of not only the animals that rely on them but also the people that live near them.”

Still and Burbridge’s project was recognized with five additional awards: The American Meteorological Society Excellence in Atmospheric Sciences Award, NOAA’s ‘Taking the Pulse of the Planet’ Award, U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize Award, Dr. Carl Riggs Memorial Award and the City of Tampa Water Department Water Conservation Award.

The last award, from the City of Tampa, was presented to Still and Burbridge by Mayor Jane Castor on April 6.

“[Still is] a wonderful student. She’s very much academically engaged,” said Durant AP Biology teacher and sponsor for Still’s project Kenneth Wood. “She thought, with the current situation with COVID, we were kind of limited with doing things in a lab or things like that, so she really wanted to do something outdoors [or] a field study/investigation.”

Two of Durant’s projects, one by Still and Burbridge and the other by Bush, Hesse and Lahsangah, were selected to represent Team Hillsborough at the 66th annual State Science and Engineering Fair.

Durant was the only school represented in the nine Team Hillsborough projects that was not designated as a science magnet or International Baccalaureate school, an important accomplishment for both the school and student scientists who won.

For more information on Team Hillsborough and the 66th annual State Science and Engineering Fair, visit

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