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Photos: Pine Hill Project Expo celebrates curiosity

Lacey Milbrandt, 8, shared her research on bats at the annual Pine Hill Elemenary School Project Expo. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 5
Taylor Crist, 9, shares some facts about her study on fruit flies with her mother DeeDee and friend Kate Fetter, 13, at the annual Project Expo at Pine Hill Elementary School. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 5
Fourth-graders Chloe Strom (left) and Samantha Behrends studied llamas for the Pine Hill Elementary School Project Expo. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 5
Emily Heilman, 7, chose ladybugs for her study at the Pine Hill Project Expo. “Ladybugs are one of my favorite creatures in the whole world,” she said. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 5
Pine Hill fifth grade students (from left to right): Shelby Milbrandt, Samantha Symicek and James Olson each received a Project Expo Four-Time Awards for participation in the program all four years that they were eligible. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 5

SCHOOL DISTRICT 833 — Chloe Strom, a fourth-grader at Pine Hill Elementary School, isn't pulling the wool over your eyes when she says that the scientific name for llama is lama glama.

She ought to know. Strom and classmate Samantha Behrends spent their extra time compiling facts about the llama, which may look like a cuddly stuffed animal but is actually a valuable meat and pack animal in Chile, Peru and other South American countries.

The duo were among more than 60 exhibitors at the Pine Hill Project Expo, the annual culture and science fair that took place in the school gym.

The Nov. 15 event was coordinated by Patrice Siefert, who teaches English learners. She and teacher Barb Hranicka, now retired, brought the expo back after a multi-year hiatus.

Taylor Crist, 9, was the room's resident expert on Drosophila Melanogaster — that's fruit flies to you and me. Picking up a glass vial containing live fruit flies, she explained to a visitor that you put them to sleep by injecting carbon dioxide into the vial. Then you can extract one of the specimens to study under a microscope and the rest won't fly away.

Bats were the chosen field of study for 8-year-old Lacey Milbrandt. She said she's partial to animals who live by night.

"All bats use echolocation except for the grey-headed flying fox," she said, referring to a large species of Australian bat.

Emily Heilman, 7, loves ladybugs, and was only too happy to share what she'd learned. Above all, ladybugs are beetles, not bugs, she said.

In 1999, NASA sent four ladybugs into space to see how they would interact with aphids, a garden pest. (They ate them.) Ladybugs are thought to have gotten their name from the Virgin Mary. Hundreds of years ago, European farmers prayed to Mary to protect their crops from destructive insects. In return she sent the ladybug, whose wings are said to resemble Mary's red cloak.

Pine Hill students Shelby Milbrandt, Samantha Symicek and James Olson each received a Project Expo Four-Time Awards for participation in the program all four years that they were eligible.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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