Kyle La Spisa, a William Floyd High School senior, received first place in the environmental sciences division at the Long Island Junior Science & Humanities Symposium 2020 regional finals this past weekend at York College in Queens. 

His research, “Utilizing Synchrotron Technology to Determine Potential Heavy Metal Distribution Among Biological Indicators in an Estuarial Environment,” focuses on testing sediment and spiders around the Forge River for contaminants.

As a regional winner, Kyle, who lives in Shirley, has been invited to present at the last round of the competition on Feb. 29, also at York College.

Kyle has been working on this project with his research partner, fellow William Floyd senior Michael Borrayo, of Shirley, under the guidance of William Floyd High School research teacher Victoria Hernandez.

Kyle and Michael, who have spent a large portion of their high school science research careers studying the Forge River estuary, collected the sediment and spider samples from different locations along the Forge River. They also collected samples outside of the Forge River watershed as a comparison.

Kyle La Spisa (right), with his research partner Michael Borrayo and their research teacher, Victoria Hernandez. Kyle won first place in the environmental sciences division at the Long Island Junior Science & Humanities Symposium.

“Kyle started by collecting data using DNA barcoding through Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center, whom he continues to collaborate with,” Hernandez said. “Then he continued to collect more spiders and perform tests on their fangs, while Michael collected sediment from corresponding regions, to see what heavy metals were present in both sample types at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source II through the SPARK Program.”

The team examined their samples at BNL using some of the world’s top equipment, such as the SRX (Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy) Beamline at the NSLS II.

Results revealed that heavy metal concentrations such as arsenic, selenium, titanium, copper, manganese and nickel were present in both sediment and spiders along the Forge River. The student researchers also found naturally occurring coppers – cupric oxide and cuprous oxide; along with titanium dioxide, a chemical compound found in sunscreen, which is often occurring due to duck farm run-off and from marine vessels.

“When we analyzed the data, the elemental ratios to iron in sediments and spiders was magnified, which is a potential environmental concern,” said Kyle. “The research reveals that pollutants are getting into the ecosystem, and once they are in, they are difficult to get out.”

Kyle added that there are certain bioengineered plants that are designed to remove contaminants from the soil. Both Kyle and Michael, with the assistance of Hernandez, plan to submit their research to peer-reviewed journals for publication consideration.

Above: Kyle La Spisa taking spider samples from the Forge River. Photos courtesy of the William Floyd School District.