Some advanced biology students at Juneau-Douglas High School are putting their opinions on the line and online.
Ten sophomores in Jonathan Smith's class have researched both sides of a controversial Alaska issue that has a biological element, come to a conclusion, and published them on a Web site. They are inviting public comments.
"There's so many issues that are facing us that we don't know about," said student Hani Siddeek. "We've got to be more aware. It's not just ANWR."
In a paper called "Less crab now, more crab later," Siddeek studied whether commercial crabbers should reduce their catch of declining crab populations.
"If you take it all now, what's going to be left in the future?" he said.
Jay Watts, a master's degree in teaching candidate in Smith's class, said students were required to write six drafts of their opinion paper, the first three of which stated the pros and cons.
"A lot of people had an initial opinion and changed their minds," Watts said.
Students have been working on their projects on their own time since early October in lieu of participating in the science fair. Smith offered them that choice because some students couldn't attend the fair.
"It's periodical-journal research and synthesis," Smith said, rather than laboratory research. "So it taps into those kids who might be more politically motivated than research motivated."
Ben Sapp studied the alteration of genes to enhance the growth of farmed Atlantic salmon in Canadian farms. The Alaska fishing industry has been concerned that farmed salmon that escape from their pens will compete with wild Alaska salmon for food and habitat.
"It was interesting to study something to do with genetics," Sapp said. "It's interesting stuff, how amino acids are formed, how the blueprint of an organism is laid out."
Sapp, like other students, did some of his research on the Internet. He also read some government publications and interviewed by phone a spokesman for a Canadian fish farm and an Alaska Department of Fish and Game hatchery expert.
"I learned a lot about a specific topic," Sapp said, comparing the project to the usual classroom work. "I didn't actually know this was going on. It just opened my eyes to what was really happening in the biological world at this time."
Walker Janelle, who studied the use of oil dispersants in Alaska after oil spills, said the project was extra work but he learned how to organize and prioritize.
The use of dispersants is more common in Europe than the United States. Oil dispersed in the ocean can contaminate fish and crustaceans, but mechanical methods of picking up spilled oil capture only about 20 percent of it, he said.
"I think that is not good enough," he said of the mechanical methods. "We need something to keep oil off beaches and keep our wildlife safe."
The essays are on the Web site at http://www.ptialaska.net/~gennie/opinionmain.html.
Other students who participated were: Naomi Sadighi, Cheyenne Sanchez, Kyle Huntsman, Alexei Painter, Paul Hughes, Buckley Svinicki and Aaron Bruce.
"The project's real value is when the public interacts with the student, goes to the Web site and gives them feedback," Smith said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.