Evart student gets national award for beetle research

BIG RAPIDS – While her peers did their homework at the kitchen table, Evart High School student Rachel Rounds would complete assignments in a field at the Lake City Research Center while watching her dung beetles work.

Rounds, a 10th grader, recently received the Coleopterists Society’s Youth Incentive Award for her research on how dung beetles affect the rate of greenhouse emissions. She was chosen from seventh- through 12th-grade students across the country to receive funding for her research.

“It feels great. It’s really my passion, working with insects especially,” said Rounds, who attends the Math/Science/Technology Center. “I like that other people have recognized my hard work.”

The Youth Incentive Award gives the recipient $150 to continue their research, $400 to spend on equipment from BioQuip products and a one-year subscription to “The Cleopterists Bulletin.”

One student is chosen for the senior award, which goes to 10th- through 12th-graders, and one junior winner is selected from seventh- through ninth-graders. Rounds also won the junior Youth Incentive Award last year for a different project on the impact of dung beetles on plant growth.

“As I’ve done my research, I’ve just come to love the beetles,” Rounds said.

Her project last year earned her a first-place title at the Regional Science and Engineering Fair, which gainer her a spot at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles last May.

On her current project, Rounds already has put in 90 hours of testing, plus multiple five-day cycles when she recorded data from her beetles. Rounds is working with her mentor Kevin Floate, a research scientist for Agriculture and Agri-Food of Canada who specializes in biological control of insects, and MSTC teacher Laura Forbes to analyze the data and write a paper explaining the results. She’ll present the results of her research at the Regional Science and Engineering Fair and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia competition this spring.

“My favorite part is seeing the results of what I’ve done,” Rounds said. “I like seeing people interested in what I’m doing.”

Rounds built five chambers in a field at Michigan State University’s AgBio Lake City Research Center. The chambers measured greenhouse emissions from cow dung with different variations of beetles’ involvement in breaking down the cow dung. The research will show whether the presence of dung beetles can make dung less harmful for the environment in terms of greenhouse emissions.

“People think the dung from cows is adding to the greenhouse gas problem,” Rounds said. “If there are beetles and insects taking away from the emissions, it’s not such an issue.”

After running five-day rotations when Rounds would take samples from the chambers of the gas emitted she and her mother took the results to Michigan State University’s lab to run the samples through a gas chromatograph.

It took 90 hours to run all 600 samples through the machine, which measures the gas in each sample. Rounds and her mother worked all day and took shifts through the night to complete the testing in time for Rounds to make it back to Evart to take her first-trimester exams.

“I’ve been able to balance (research and schoolwork) pretty well,” Rounds said. “Sometimes I’ll be doing homework out in the field. I just have interesting homework settings.”

Her parents, Floate and Forbes have been Rounds’ support system as she completes her extensive research projects.

“(Rounds’ award) says a lot about the motivation of these students and the freedom they have to stretch their wings,” Forbes said. “They have a little more freedom (at MSTC) to expand their ideas, rather than just doing book work.”