Van Buren High School student represents Iowa at International Science Fair

Lydia Heald's display on daphnia magna will be traveling to the International Science and Engineering Fair in May.

A very talented science student from Van Buren High School will be representing Iowa at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Arizona this May.

Junior Lydia Heald recently won the Eastern Iowa Science and Engineering Fair in Cedar Rapids with her project on the daphnia magna, or water flea. Lydia has been working on this same project since 7th grade and was initially interested in the project because the uniqueness of the creature, and studying elements like the flea's heartbeat ties in with her interest in medicine.

It's been a long road to the international competition, but Lydia finally gets to see her hard work pay off.

"To be able to go means a lot because since I was in seventh grade and I fell in love with science fair, it has been my dream to go to internationals and I never thought that it wouldn't happen, but I never expected it to happen," she said. "I knew if I worked hard that it was a possibility, but actually being told I was the Senior Champion - having just the excitement of everyone there, it means so much."

Lydia was one of two Senior Champions out of 246 students at the Eastern Iowa Fair, but that's not the only competition her presentation has traveled to this year. She first competed in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium at the University of Iowa, where she was one of 18 students from across the state. She presented her project before 500 people, and though she didn't place, Lydia said it gave her valuable experience.

Next up was the Conference Fair in Burlington, where she won the Outstanding Physical Science award. Before she travels to Arizona, Lydia will also compete at state.

Students, teachers and the community have rallied around Lydia with support, holding a party for her achievement in Cedar Rapids and hanging signs in the hallways of the high school congratulating her on her advancement to Internationals. Lydia thanks them all, especially her teacher and mentor, Amanda Kite, who has worked with Lydia since seventh grade and will be accompanying her to Arizona.

"It means a lot too because of my teacher, she wasn't able to attend the International Science Fair as a participant and so being her first student to get the highest award that any student of hers has ever achieved and being able to take her on with me and having her as my support has been awesome," Lydia said.

Lydia will be competing against 1,500 kids from 72 countries at the fair and she said the experience will be completely different from any competition she's attended thus far.

But she'll be prepared - Lydia said she will practice her presentation until she knows it even better than she does now, and make a few tweaks to her board that previous judges have recommended.

In the end, Lydia said the time and dedication it has taken to get her this far has been worth it, and she urges any other student interested in science to do the same.

"The life skills you learn is great," she said. "I've become a very good public speaker compared to what I used to be when I was younger. I've been able to do different types of research and I've improved my writing skills. I've improved everything there is to improve in order to live a fulfilling life and function in society."

After graduation, Lydia said she would like to study medicine and is considering the University of Iowa, Iowa State or Truman State University.