Student wins Louisville Water science fair award

Louisville Water proudly sponsored the Louisville Regional Science and Engineering Fair that was held virtually on Sat., March 6. This annual fair is for students in grades 6 through 12 from 52 counties in Kentucky. Louisville Water awarded $300 to a student whose project exhibited a knowledge of water quality.

This year’s winner was 8th grader Mary Shea Ballantine of St. Francis of Assisi School. In her project entitled “The Ohio River: Creating a Selective Environment for Pathogenic Bacteria,” she sampled water downstream from Louisville MSD’s Morris-Forman Treatment Plant, which treats wastewater.

In her water samples, she found evidence that non-pathogenic bacteria became pathogenic. She believes that this is a cause for concern because research has shown that antibiotics in human waste can play a role in making harmless bacteria antibiotic-resistant.

“We all need to be mindful of antibiotics we use,” said Ballantine. “Taking them less frequently and properly disposing of them are significant steps we can take to keep them out of our water systems. Once antibiotics enter a water source, I found that they can seriously impact the ecosystem by turning bacteria that are normally non-pathogenic into pathogens. Once bacteria become pathogenic, we have created antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which become very difficult to kill.”

Ballantine knows the importance of keeping the Ohio River safe as it is Louisville Water’s source. She has plans to expand her research by sampling at different points across the Ohio and hopes to one day compare her water samples to different rivers across the country.

“I realize how vital water is in our day-to-day life,” said Ballantine, who will attend Sacred Heart Academy in the fall. “Having clean water in the Louisville community is important and studying possible risks in the Ohio River is something that has interested me.”

Louisville Water Director of Water Quality Peter Goodmann volunteered as a judge for middle school division, listening and evaluating a variety of virtual presentations.

“I was impressed by the caliber of the study designs and engineering solutions, the effort put forth by students, and the quality of the presentations,” said Goodmann. “It is uplifting to witness the depth of scientific and engineering understanding, and the detail of the studies and problem solving the students at that level are conducting.”

At the competition, students can win cash prizes and other awards, including entry to the national Broadcom MASTERS competition and the International Science and Engineering Fair. Ballantine competes in the state science fair on March 27.