Simple curiosity, fascinating discovery
By LOGAN NEILL
BROOKSVILLE -- Later this spring, Kay Furman will make her way to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Cleveland, for the second time in two years.
She will take with her an exhibit that includes sophisticated comparison charts, computer readouts and scientific calculations.
Yet despite the complicated data, the core of the Central High School senior's project remains: Simple curiosity and the search for scientific truth.
For the Brooksville 17-year-old, that has always been the essence of science. Somehow, she always has had a fascination and a desire to look beyond the answers found in a textbook. Two years ago, that fascination drove Kay to begin a series of experiments that have since brought her acclaim in some scientific circles.
One day while reading a popular scientific journal, she found an article that suggested that catnip plants might hold a key to the eventual development of a natural insect repellent.
That sparked her to conduct an experiment of her own. From catnip plants purchased from a nursery, she picked leaves, boiled them down and distilled the juice to come up with a purified oil extract. She then set out to capture live specimens, a process she found more challenging than she first thought.
"It took awhile, but eventually I got 20 into a jar and hoped they'd stay alive long enough to work on," she said. After she placed catnip oil-soaked paper strips in the jar, she noticed the mosquitoes stayed away.
After recording every step of the process, Kay assembled a project to enter into the Hernando Science and Engineering Fair. Judges found her work compelling enough that they awarded the top prize in her category and invited her to the state science fair.
"I was thrilled because I didn't expect to win anything," she said. "I was just doing it more or less for my own purposes."
However, the experiment also captured the interest of some in the academic community. Last summer, researchers at the University of Florida offered to let her use their facility for this year's science project.
"I spent seven weeks there, from nine to five every day," said Kay, "It was an enlightening experience."
Being talented in science would probably be enough for many teens to hang their future on. But for Kay, it's part of an ethic that has brought high achievement in everything from academics and sports to community and social involvement.
Besides being a standout performer in the classroom, she has earned accolades in volleyball (where she led her team to district title this year), basketball and track and field. On campus she serves in several clubs, including the National Honor Society (where she serves as vice president), Spanish National Honor Society, Beta Club, Mu Alpha Theta and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. This past year she also captained the school's academic team.
"I think of school as my job," said Kay. "I've always thought that education is the key to your life, that it gives you your future."
Kay's future after graduation looks particularly bright. She's already been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she plans to study biochemical engineering. Interstingly, she chose the school among 10 other colleges partly because it reminded her of home.
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