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      Heartland students advance in science fair

      Pearl Sawhney and Minna Mohammadi are high school sophomores at Maharishi School in Fairfield.

      They took home the top prizes for their project: "Farm Feeding Practices: Exploring Solutions for Environmental Sustainability," which studied the source of phosphates that create the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. Sawhney and Mohammadi researched three categories of farms: confined animal feeding operations, conventional farms, and organic farms.

      KTVO spoke with Pearl and Minna on Friday morning. They are thrilled about their success and discussed the motivations behind the project.

      "Our motivation was to find a local solution to a global problem, because there are lots of 'dead zones,'" Mohammadi said.

      "Actually, just recently researchers have found that there's a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that's the size of New Jersey. And that's 8,800 square miles. And it's a really big deal. And it is caused because of phosphorous and nitrogen pollution," Sawhney said.

      They also discussed their results.

      "The organic feed was the most environmentally friendly because it had more phosphorous available for absorption. And the water running downstream had lower phosphorous and pollution levels," Mohammadi said.

      "But we still want to test more farms. So this is our pilot project, so we've only done a few farms in each category," Sawhney said.

      Research was key to the project, they said, prior to and during the field study.

      "We started with research because until we knew enough about it, we couldn't formulate an actual project," Mohammadi said.

      "So research began in November. But the actual testing and everything began in December through February. And through that time of testing everything, we still have to do research," Sawhney said.

      They also won the most coveted prize: a free trip to participate at the INTEL, International Science Fair in San Jose from May 8th through May 14th. Both Sawhney and Mohammadi want to study medicine in college.