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Senior Mary Sclafani's Hydroponics Project Aims to Tackle Food Insecurity and Iron Deficiency

Senior Mary Sclafani's Hydroponics Project Aims to Tackle Food Insecurity and Iron Deficiency

As the STREAM Symposium approached on April 23, anticipation built around the innovative projects that were showcased by students. Among them was Mary Sclafani, a senior whose independent research project promised to shed light on the potential of hydroponics in addressing food insecurity and iron deficiency.

Sclafani's fascination with hydroponic systems began during STREAM 2, where she delved into the intricacies of soil-less cultivation methods. Her interest had blossomed as she embarked on her own experimentation at home, combining hydroponics and aquaponics to explore their potential in sustainable agriculture.

Over the summer, Sclafani's research took a focused turn towards leveraging hydroponics to combat food insecurity. Drawing inspiration from nonprofit organizations and academic experts, including those at Purdue University, she had honed in on the role of substrates and nutrient solutions in plant growth within hydroponic systems.

The encouragement from these experts had led Sclafani to refine her project, incorporating organic materials like coconut coir and rice hulls into her experiments. Her research had centered on testing different substrates and nutrient solutions for their effectiveness in supporting plant growth, particularly focusing on lettuce—a staple crop that could significantly impact food security.

Sclafani's methodology had involved two distinct hydroponic systems, each containing 12 pods divided equally among rockwool, coconut coir, and rice hull substrates. Within these pods, she had meticulously cultivated lettuce while closely monitoring the nutrient levels. Crucially, she aimed to assess the iron content of the harvested lettuce, collaborating with a chemistry teacher at RES to compare it with store-bought counterparts.

By scrutinizing the absorbency of iron in her homegrown lettuce across different substrates, Sclafani had hoped to not only gauge the potential of hydroponics in addressing food insecurity but also to highlight its role in combating iron deficiency—an issue prevalent in communities with limited access to nutritious food.

Sclafani's project represents a fusion of scientific inquiry and social impact, offering promising insights into the multifaceted benefits of hydroponic systems. Her work stands as a testament to the power of student-driven research in addressing pressing global challenges.