SBHS sophomore, Anna Oblak, working in the lab at UVM, and at the STEM Fair. PHOTO: Liam John, B.A.

Oblak Wins Four Awards at Vermont STEM Fair

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Thursday April 12, 2018

The Vermont Science, Technology, Engineer and Mathematics Fair (STEM) held annually at the end of March marks an important event for South Burlington High School (SBHS) sophomores who are studying Research Biology. Students enrolled in this class are required to produce a science project and present it at the state science fair March 24. After months of preparation, 16 out of the 47 participating SBHS sophomores collected 36 prizes. Among the winning work was that of sophomore Anna Oblak, who walked away with four awards: a gold Vermont Principals’ Association medal, the Naval Research Award, the Women of Geo-Science Award, and an invitation to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

In the four months leading up to the science fair, Oblak was busy contacting mentors, working in the lab, analyzing her data, and finally putting it all together for display. From the beginning, Oblak knew she wanted to investigate within the obstetrics field, specifically the condition of preeclampsia in maternal pregnancies. Oblak explains that preeclampsia “is a placental deformation, where the placenta does not connect to the uterine wall correctly.” She wanted to investigate this category of biology because her sister had the condition of preeclampsia when she was pregnant with her son. While Oblak’s sister and nephew are healthy, preeclampsia takes the lives of 76,000 mothers and 500,000 infants a year. After “going through a line of doctors,” Oblak eventually teamed up with her mentor George Osol, Ph.D., who has dedicated 20 years of his life to researching preeclampsia. She also collaborated with Liam John, B.A. and Theresa Nga Ling, Ph.D.

Alongside this team of researchers, Oblak focused on a possible cause of preeclampsia and studied the effects of nitric oxide synthase inhibition on spiral arteries and venous remodeling during rat pregnancy, which, in “normal” terms, means that she wanted to investigate if the lack of the nitric oxide was causing more women to develop preeclampsia. While Oblak did not find a significant effect, she hopes to continue this research in the future. Oblak explains that the most important takeaway from this project was “doing research in a lab that could actually help in the real world; I am so grateful to Dr. Osol for lending me his time and help to allow me to do so.” She added, “The most fun part though, was when I won the ISEF award.” And rightfully so, Oblak is one of only three Vermont students selected to attend ISEF.

When the ISEF award was announced, Oblak noted, “I was chanting my friend’s name in my head; I was not expecting the award at all. It was one of those moments in the movies when the entire world fades out. I was completely blindsided.” Oblak will compete at ISEF in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 13 through 19. She is excited to meet student scientists her age from all around the world. Whatever the outcome in May, Oblak will continue to pursue her passion as a woman in the STEM field, whether it be in a lab or the classroom.


SOURCE: Ann Wong, SBHS CDC Correspondent