Local youth gains honor of state from Discovery Channel

Published 7:21 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Discovery Channel has honored a Picayune Memorial High School student for work done on a science project inspired by Hurricane Katrina.

With the use of powdered milk, some moisture and the power of decomposition, Mary Pollitz, a junior high student when the hurricane roared through Picayune snapping the tops out of trees and damaging others beyond recovery, found an alternative to stump grinding.

Pollitz, now a freshman at PMHS, thought up a way to speed up the process of decomposition of stumps left by Hurricane Katrina by attracting more decomposers. Pollitz used the project idea for her junior high science project.

“That’s where I got the idea from, because the stump grinders are like $175 for one stump,” Pollitz said.

With the use of powdered milk and water to keep it moist, bugs and other decomposers such as maggots and grub worms began their work on the stump, she said.

“I also used Roundup (a commercial weed killer) but that didn’t work as well as the powdered milk did,” Pollitz said.

In her experiment, she used a stump that has been in her yard for three years as a control and compared it to the decomposition rate of stump from a tree damaged by Katrina to which she applied the powdered milk. The stump caused by a tree being lost to Katrina showed a considerable rate of decomposition, with layers of bark and other matter falling right off the stump, while the control stump remained intact, Pollitz said.

Even though the experiment began in November of last year, Pollitz said she still puts the powdered milk on the stump once a week and moistens the stump everyday.

“Unless the humidity is really high,” she said.

Recognition for her project came when she submitted an essay describing her project to the Discovery Channel Scientist Challenge. Initially, there were 70,000 students who entered science fairs nationally, and 1,900 entries that were submitted to the challenge, according to a press release from the Discovery Channel. Of those 1,900 formal entries, there were 400 semifinalists from states such as Florida, which had 35 semifinalists, California with 33 and Texas with 32. Mississippi’s only semifinalist is Pollitz, according to http://school.discovery.com/sciencefaircentral/dysc/finalists/states/ms.html.

The essays were structured around questions such as a description of the project, how it would affect other cities and how would the entrant convey the project to others, Pollitz said. She and her teacher received prizes for her achievement, Pollitz said, and she received a 30-day trial of Cosmeo, a homework website though the Discovery Channel and a magnetic game. Her teacher received some products from Elmer’s for class use, a sponsor of the Discovery Channel Scientist Challenge.

Pollitz plans to join the robotics team with her brother this year. After she graduates high school, she wants to enter the medical field.

“I think I’d like to be a neonatal nurse,” Pollitz said.