Chelsea Hu is a rising high school sophomore at the BASIS Independent McLean school on a scholarship. At just 15, Hu has a long resume of successes. Most recently, she presented her research about combating bank erosion at multiple high level science competitions locally and globally.
Hu’s research on combatting bank erosion focuses on one plant- Eastern Skunk cabbages. Her fascination with the plant arose from her love of hiking and constantly seeing the plant in nature. After seeing the cabbages survive a snowy day on her hike by a stream, Hu set her sights on research about the plant. “Eastern Skunk Cabbages have unique characteristics that make them suitable for combating bank erosion. They are obligate wetland indicators which means that they are extremely common in North American wetlands and are suitable for them,” Hu explained. “They have tall stalks and strong, broad-oblong shaped leaves which can help buffer the speed of runoff water. They are thermogenic, producing their own heat up to 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit. They can survive in anaerobic soil conditions. And they have large contractile roots systems which can grow to be multiple feet long.”
Hu ran a variety of tests, checking the soil composition and compression with and without the skunk cabbages, checking to make sure the plants had no negative runoff, and even making a large model to understand if the plants really prevented erosion. “I hypothesized that due to the perennial contraction of Eastern Skunk cabbages, the soil around the roots would also be compacted and strengthened, and ultimately help decrease bank erosion,” Hu said.
After Hu proved the positive impact of the plants, she was ready to share her findings. “I presented my research at the Regional Science and Engineer Fair where I won the grand prize. Then I competed at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. I won first place in the Environmental Science category and first place for the special awards under Systems Sciences and Applications. Then, I presented my research at the Virginia State Science Fair where I was awarded second place in the Environmental Science Category. Then at the International Science and Engineer Fair, which is considered ‘the Olympics of Science’, I was awarded the third-place grand award in my category Earth and Environmental Sciences,” Hu said.
Hu is passionate about fighting bank erosion around waterways. But why does bank erosion matter? “Bank erosion is a big problem because of human activity. Specifically, the increased development and urbanization taking place in areas near these streams and banks,” Hu said. “It also has extremely damaging effects on ecosystems and wildlife. I believe that it is up to us as human beings to concentrate on solutions as we caused it.”
Armed with her research and passion, Hu was ready to share her findings about the negative effects of erosion and the solution which the plants provide but remained humble. “My main goal at ISEF was just to enjoy the fair, share my scientific findings and meet new like-minded people. Hearing my name get called at the International Science Fair was probably one of the best moments of my life. I was already so happy with the fact that I was selected as a freshman out of millions of high schoolers to compete,” Hu recalled.
With her award-winning research, Hu hopes people can learn more about bank erosion and why it is detrimental to the environment. “I am currently working with the Virginia Department of Forestry to start implementing Eastern Skunk cabbages into stream banks and riparian zone areas,” she said. “I hope that my research brings more attention to the problem of bank erosion and sheds new light on using environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions to problems that are caused by humans.”
Hu’s accomplishments do not stop at science fairs, however. She also has an internship at Georgetown University, which she has been completing virtually within the Physics Department. Hu is also the captain of the Metro D.C. Virginia Cardinals debate team and competes on her school debate team as well. And to round it all off, Hu is a dedicated fencer. Last year, she was the USA Fencing bronze winner in Women’s Youth Epee in Region 6. She now has her eyes set on the Junior Olympic Championships.