By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
St. Francis of Assisi eighth-grader Cassie Drury spent a week in Hollywood in early May where she appeared under the bright lights of the historic El Capitan Theatre with Robert Downey Jr., star of the recently released “Iron Man 3” movie.
Cassie’s not Louisville’s next starlet, though. She was one of a dozen young scientists from around the nation selected to participate in “Marvel’s Iron Man 3: Inventor and Innovator Fair.” And she was one of four in the group to be named a grand-prize winner.
Organizers of the science fair promoted it as a search for “the next Tony Stark,” Iron Man’s alter ego who is a scientist and inventor.
During a May 3 awards presentation, Robert Downey Jr. made a surprise appearance and shook hands with the winners on El Capitan’s stage. Then he exclaimed, “I am very pleased to introduce the future design team of the next Tony Stark Iron Man suit.”
Cassie said during an interview last week at her school, “The trip was amazing. It was so much fun. My best memories have been made at these science fairs.”
Science caught her interest in the sixth-grade, she said, when the focus of lessons transitioned from text books to the lab, which she sees as “one of the most fun rooms in the school.
“In sixth-grade, science really came alive,” Cassie noted. “We did a lot of hands-on activities and it went a lot deeper than before. We started studying cells which I found really interesting.”
She said she discovered the joy “of uncovering things I didn’t know were there before.”
“One of the things that’s shocked me is that we’re all made of the same basic things which aren’t alive,” she said, referring to cells. “When you put it all together it makes something that is living and can think and act.
“There are so many mysteries,” in the natural world, she added. “I think it’s interesting that there’s so much we don’t know about.”
Since the sixth-grade, Cassie has spent hours in the science lab trying to uncover these mysteries.
For the last two years, her science projects have focused on the behavior of stem cells. Specifically, she is studying the movement of these cells, which she said migrate to the site of an injury when an organism is wounded.
“They have to come from all over your body when you get injured,” Cassie explained. “There’s always been this really big question with stem cells that it seems like no one has really looked at. The question was: How did they know to start moving? What is signalling them to migrate toward the wound?”
To answer this question, Cassie has been studying the movement of stem cells in planaria, a kind of worm. She can see the movement of their cells under the focused lens of a microscope.
Her efforts have led to several honors in the last three years. She won the Kentucky State Science and Engineering Fair for the last three years — as a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader. In the seventh grade, Cassie earned the Brown Forman Award for Innovation at the regional science fair.
She also was one of 30 students from around the nation to be selected as a Broadcom Master during the National Science and Engineering Fair last year. And she was one of two Broadcom Masters selected to attend the High School International Science Fair this week in Phoenix as an observer. She hopes to earn a spot in that competition in the future.
Cassie’s returning from Phoenix today, a day early, so she can attend her eighth-grade graduation at St. Francis of Assisi on Friday. She’s also looking forward to more in-depth study in high school in duPont Manual’s Math, Science, Technology magnet program.
Despite her efforts, Cassie hasn’t answered her project’s ultimate question, but she has made important discoveries, said her science teacher Fred Whitaker.
“It’s opened doors to discoveries she can make for the rest of her life,” he said during an interview in the St. Francis science lab last week.
That’s “incredibly exciting,” said Cassie, who noted, “I’m glad to have started out with something I can continue” to study.
Whitaker said that Cassie, though only an eighth-grader, is already a “mature researcher.”
“Not knowing things doesn’t intimidate her; it excites her,” he said. “She’s never been offended when her projects haven’t worked out. She understands that good questions lead to other questions and not necessarily absolute answers. That can be very frustrating for some.”
He noted that Cassie has interests beyond science, too. She plays volleyball, basketball, tennis, soccer, swims, serves on the student council and takes part in theater at her school.
Whitaker hopes Cassie’s success encourages other youngsters to consider science.
“It’s so fitting that science should allow kids to walk on the red carpet, to have fun and be seen as a super hero,” he added.
We are so proud of Cassie Drury and her teacher Fred Whitaker and her school, St. Francis of Assisi.
Cassie has been a winner in the Louisville Regional Science & Enginnering Fair for three years in a row. She & her teacher have been stars in our event and they have won lots of national attention as well. Both are role models for students and teachers in the Archdiocese schools and beyond. Thanks for the wonderful front page article.
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