Olivia R. Silva’s first step toward world domination took place earlier this month at the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair.
The 16-year-old from Mattapoisett won a first-place award among 400 competitors for her research on the effects of a compromised immune system on T. molitor, the common mealworm.
“It was more of an environmental science study,” Silva explained. “I introduced a pseudo-parasite into their system, and tested them at various temperatures to simulate global warming.”
Silva, a former student at Old Rochester Regional High School and now at junior at the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, was of 12 students to crack the regionals. She then emerged with 13 others from the region to the state finals at MIT. The event marked her first competition, which blossomed from a curricular requirement into a passion.
“At regionals, the judges came from more of an engineering background, while the judges at state had more of a specialty in biology, which helped me,” she said. “Plus, I was able to further my data collection, which strengthened my project.”
Silva’s victory brought with it a $60,000 scholarship from Northeastern University, as well as an award from the U.S. Air Force.
“Northeastern is definitely on my list of schools to look at,” she said. “I’ll be going on college tours this summer.”
Silva’s parents, Robert and Barbara Silva, have worked in business and nursing, respectively.
“My school focuses largely on science, scientific and technical writing, physics, and mathematical models,” Silva said. “I spend a lot of time on it, of course, and often end up taking on my own investigations of the subjects.”
The teen is currently interning at UMass Medical in X-ray crystallographic methods and hopes to intern in biology at WPI this fall. During the summer, Silva works as a sailing instructor at the Mattapoisett Community Sailing Association, and enjoys skiing Wachusett Mountain in the winter.
But everything else takes a backseat to science.
“I’ve always wanted to go into a profession in science, and I’m currently interested in medicine,” Silva said. “I would love to work as an anesthesiologist.”
By Shawn Badgley