Two Butte students – Alexandra Antonioli and Kels Phelps – have taken their school science projects to the highest levels of success. After claiming local awards from the Pit Committee, their impressive work has earned national awards and scholarships for their continuing education.
Alexandra, a Butte High senior, has spent most of her educational career working on science fair projects relating to solutions and issues regarding the Berkeley Pit. When she’s not swimming and playing piano, she’s working on her main project titled, “An Investigation of the Remediation of Berkeley Pit Water Using Genetically Modified Extremophilic Yeast”. Although it’s quite complicated, Alexandra’s simplified explanation is the project deals with evaluating microorganisms and their ability to sequester the complex mineral compounds contained within the water. The end result is the potential detoxification of Pit water. For her work, Alexandra has received a full scholarship ($78,000) to Drexel University for microbiology, as well as numerous other honors, including awards from the Navy, the University of Montana and Montana Tech.
Kels, a Butte High freshman, has also concentrated on microbiology and the Berkeley Pit for his science fair project. The project, “Do Microbes Growing in Unique Ecological Niches Contain Compounds with Redeemable Medicinal Value,” was one of 40 finalists (out of 60,000 nominations) in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C. in October 2002. At this national competition, Kels won a special award for leadership, a physics award, and a scholarship to attend an aviation camp in Wisconsin next summer. Kels says his project was looking for a possible medicine from a fungus that grows in the Berkeley Pit. Tested for its ability to fight cancer and five types of infections, it was discovered that this fungus was a possible anti-cancer agent and lethal to Staphylococcus aureus.
Others Butte students are encouraged to develop projects related to mining or the Berkeley Pit for the 2003 Science Fair next spring at Montana Tech.