Smoking debate spurns young researchers
Smoking is harmful for humans. But it's murder on rats and mice.
Two sixth-graders from All Saints Episcopal School announced at Tuesday's science fair that smoking not only causes loss of appetite and thirst in mice, but results in low birth rates and high infant mortality rates in rats.
Spurred by Lubbock's smoking debate, started by fellow student Amit Bushan in 2000, the two students â€” Sarah Richards and Mackenzie Hales â€” decided they'd try some simple, empirical tests to see smoking's affect on organisms.
The girls are in the same science class, but did their experiments separately. Both also won blue ribbons for the sixth-grade contest Tuesday night.
"At first, I wanted to do something with cancer because my dad is an oncologist," said Sarah, who studied how secondhand smoke affects rat birth weight. "But, there wasn't really anything we could do. So, then we started thinking about the whole smoking thing."
She and her father ordered four pregnant rats off the Internet and put them in the garage, which was cool with her mom as long as they didn't get loose, Sarah said.
Two of the rats were subjected to three hours of secondhand smoke a day, while the other two remained smoke-free.
The results came on Christmas Day.
Almost all the 23 rat babies whose mothers had been exposed to secondhand smoke were between 1 and 2 ounces lighter than normal rats.
But the real surprise came the next day, Richards said.
"It was very interesting," She said, "All but four of the babies exposed to secondhand smoke died.
"I learned that secondhand smoke does cause lower birth weights, and pregnant women who are exposed to secondhand smoke can affect their babies."
Mackenzie said she, too, was interested in finding out how smoking affected organisms because of Lubbock's smoking debate.
"We kept going out to restaurants, and I didn't eat as much or drink as much when I was around secondhand smoke," she said.
She equally separated 12 mice into containers and found, on average, the smoking mice ate 1.8 grams less food and drank 2.6 grams less water than healthy, non-smoking mice.
Greg Hutchinson, their science teacher, said he was surprised at the girls' experiments.
"It was very simple in it's design, and it was very unique in it's simplicity," he said of the experiments. "My role was very minimal in this. I just kind of helped them understand the concepts.
"It's hard to keep up with them."
Sarah's results even piqued the curiosity of the University of Kentucky.
Dr. Berry Campbell, a high risk obstetrics doctor and professor at the university, said he was intrigued by Sarah's experiment. He heard about it from Sarah father, Dr. Eddie Richards.
Previous studies prove women who smoke have babies of lower birth weight and are more prone to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but no studies have been done on pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke.
"When Eddie was telling me about this, I jotted down notes to help me out," Campbell said."I told him this is something that should be done on a larger scale. I think it's something very intriguing and needs to be followed up on.
"I'm amazed that an 11-year-old or 12-year-old girl would take on this project."