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Local high schooler wins top award at Science and Engineering Fair


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Photos courtesy of Tony Harrison

AMMON — While many science teachers feel like they have to put in a lot of work to get their students to participate, Hillcrest High School junior Lindsey Holtom’s instructor just had to set her up and watch her go.

And go she did. She recently won the “Best of Fair” award at the Eastern Idaho Science and Engineering Fair for her project “Developing Bacteria from Public Places.” She beat out 109 other submissions and will move on with five other winners to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in May.

“I had no idea what was going to happen,” she told “I never saw this coming, but it’s been super awesome.”

The project started when Holtom’s Chemistry teacher invited her class to participate in the fair. She helped Lindsey with the application process and then the research could start.

With all the safety precautions that have been affecting everyone, Holtom was really curious about the dirtiest surfaces to touch, and that is how “Developing Bacteria from Public Places” was born.

“We saw ourselves disinfecting the spaces and really taking these measures to clean the surfaces and cleaning public places like we never had before,” she said. “It really got me wondering, which places are the dirtiest? Which places need to be cleaned the most? Which places do we need to avoid?”

She conducted her research by going out with swabs and taking samples of bacteria in public areas like gas pump handles, grocery store shopping carts and office door handles. She then transferred those samples to petri dishes and let them cultivate for 2 weeks to grow bacterial samples.

The worst perpetrator according to her project? The dollar bill.

“That was really gross. It completely overgrew the entire petri dish which none of my others did,” she added. “I don’t think I’m going to use cash anymore because it was that gross.”

One pleasant surprise she found was the door handles at a COVID testing center were kept surprisingly and comfortably clean.

Holtom’s interest in science can be described as a passion, one that she hopes to continue.

“I’ve always really liked science. It’s definitely my favorite subject,” she said. “I just find it really interesting, it just kind of fascinates me, especially biology and microbiology.”

She hopes that she can continue her research in this project next year and present new findings of what has changed in the fair for her senior year. She explained she is interested in pursuing a career in the STEM field, possibly through nursing or medical school.

For students in school that have trouble seeing fun in their science classes, Holtom has one piece of advice.

“Don’t give up on it,” she explains. “There are so many different types of sciences out there and there’s something for everyone.”

Other students at Hillcrest received awards including Mikaela Spafford, Ethan Grigg, Carter Thompson, Andrew Dawson, Thomas Endsley, and Sydney Woolstenhulme. This helped the school overall win the Top School award.

Holtom is very grateful for her teachers, parents and others that have helped her have this opportunity.

“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “It just kept getting better and better.”