Three Boise students show their science savvy

Catherine Ji, left, and Brynne Coulam are awaiting word that their science experiment has reached the International Space Station.
Catherine Ji, left, and Brynne Coulam are awaiting word that their science experiment has reached the International Space Station. Provided by Boise State University

Alex Howard, a 15-year-old going into 11th grade at Timberline High School, was so concerned about the plight of Flint, Mich., that he began researching a filtration system to reduce lead in contaminated water.

Brynne Coulam, 14, and Catherine Ji, 13, students at Treasure Valley Math and Science Center, worked on an experiment for two years measuring the effect of an enzyme that’s a key element in the structure of skin and bone.

This week, all three were rewarded for their efforts.

Howard was named the North American winner in the first-ever Community Impact awards that are part of Google’s annual Science Fair. He will receive a $1,000 scholarship, help from a mentor who could assist in developing his filtration system, and a trip to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to attend the Science Fair Awards. He is one of five winners.

After learning about the lead in Flint, Mich., water, Howard’s work led him to eventually hit on an idea that pushed water through a combination of sand and specially treated seashells. In his experiments he found that in small amounts of water, lead would be reduced from 100 parts per billion to only 15 parts ppb and the system worked for at least 30 days (that’s all the testing he could do) without losing its effectiveness. Now he wants to see if it could work on a larger scale.

It’s a really big deal to us.

Budding scientist Brynne Coulam

He was surprised by the results. “I didn’t expect it to go so well,” he said.

Howard has always liked science and grew up in a family in which his father worked as an engineer, he said. He’s excited that his work could have help real people’s lives.


Coulam and Ji’s experiment was chosen to go to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket Wednesday.

The experiment is the first time junior high students in Idaho have had their experiment launched into space.

Launching the experiment into space was delayed because of rocket problems over the past year. The payload was launched Monday.

Coulam and Ji’s experiment was a finalist in Student Spaceflight Experiments Program Mission 8, which is part of the SpaceX program.

Astronauts will perform prescribed experiments developed by Coulam and Ji. The samples will be returned to Earth for further analysis

Boise State University and the University of British Columbia helped the two students with their project.

Coulam and Ji said previous research shows that the enzyme breaks down collagen in skin, bones and ligaments both on Earth and space. Coulam and Ji want to know if the enzyme is more potent in space.

The enzyme experiments may not have been possible without the help of Dan and Pattie Frandson, whose son Daniel also attends Boise School District’s Treasure Valley Math and Science Center. The Frandsons covered the cost of putting the experiment on the rocket, getting it to the space station and returning it to Earth, Treasure Valley Math and Science Center officials said. The Frandsons declined to give the amount of their donation.