Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

May 25, 2022
Junior high students head to national science competition

A group of three  eighth-grade students from Clarke Johnsen Junior High School will travel to Washington D.C in June to compete in the eCybermission competition.

In the competition the students will demonstrate their work with bacterial keratitis, an infection of the cornea that comes from wearing contact lenses. 

The idea for the project came when one of the students transitioned from glasses to contacts.

“The student was talking to her dad who is an eye doctor about what sort of problems could come and talking about the importance of making sure you have really good hygiene with the contacts,” said Lora Gibbons, mother of one of the students involved in the project and a science teacher at Mountain Heights Academy in West Jordan. “They got involved with a BYU professor in the department of microbiology and put together a team of three students.”

Gibbons was appointed as advisor and the students set out to begin their project, with the help of the Brigham Young University professor and students at the university. 

The students focused on an infection called bacterial keratitis, which is an infection of the cornea or clear dome that covers the eye. With over 45 million individuals in the United States who wear contact lenses, their risk of developing the infection was nearly nine times more than individuals who don’t wear contacts.

Students reported that pseudomonas is painful and can lead to blindness. They also found that the Center for Disease Control estimates bacterial keratitis often results in over a million doctor visits per year and costs over $175 million in health care expenses.

After learning about the infection, students focused their research on bacteriophages, a type of virus that infects bacteria and literally destroys it, and how different phages would affect Pseudomonas, which is one of the most common bacteria that causes bacterial keratitis, Gibbons said.

“Their project was kind of three parts,” Gibbons said. “The first part was deciding they needed to isolate bacteriophages and the bacteria they decided to address was Pseudomonas…In the process of isolating the bacteriophage, they isolated and named nine new bacteria phages, specific to Pseudomonas. Each of them named three. After this, for the second part, they wondered if these new bacteria would be stable in contact lense solution. They wanted to see if they could make a bacteriophage contact solution that would take care of the Pseudomonas before it reached the eye…They found over a 30-day trial, their bacteria phages were stable, so they did live in the solution. During part three, they tested to see if their phage would infect any other bacteria close to Pseudomonas, like salmonella and e-coli…Seven of the nine phages were specific only to Pseudomonas making them narrow range, and a good fit for the phage contact lens solution.”

The students also began building a prototype to create an app to remind contact wearers to change their lenses.

The project took over eight months to complete and students entered the eCybermission contest put on with the U.S Army Educational Outreach Program.

The eCybermission contest is a free science, technology, engineering, and math competition for students in grades six through nine. Students are challenged to work in teams of two to four to identify a problem in their community to explore using scientific practices or solve with engineering design.

The students submitted their project to the competition online and they were declared one of the top three teams in the western United States, then they moved on to the regional competition in April where they also won after presenting virtually in front of eight professional judges, and won $4,000 in savings bonds.

The students will now be able to fly to Washington D.C on June 26 to compete in the national competition where they will go against the five other eighth grade teams from four other regions.

During the week they are at nationals, they will present in front of judges and learn from Army scientist presentations.

At nationals, they will have the opportunity to win $10,000 in U.S savings bonds.

To learn more about their project, please visit


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