Carnegie Museum of Natural History

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May 26, 2010


St. Thomas More Catholic School Student Wins 2010 Carnegie Museum of Natural History Award

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…Grace P. Smoker, a seventh grade student at St. Thomas More Catholic School, is the 2010 recipient of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS) Award for her project, "The Effects of Earth Worms and Red Worms on Soil Composition.” The award was presented to Smoker on February 27 by Collection Manager of Mammals Suzanne McLaren at the PJAS Annual Region 7 Meeting at Keystone Oaks High School. The Carnegie Award is one of several awards announced at the PJAS Region 7 meeting recognizing outstanding student projects. The Carnegie Award supports Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s goals to make science a relevant and important part of people’s everyday lives, to help people identify themselves as users of scientific principles, and to encourage our communities to actively steward the earth and its resources.

Smoker developed an experiment to test which species is better at enhancing soil—the common earthworm, Lumbricus terresteris, or red worms, Eisenia fetida—as red worms are often touted by composting experts as the best at improving soil. Making sure to use a control group and conducting the experiment over an extended period of time, Smoker demonstrated to judges that she understands the experimental process and what it means to test a hypothesis. Smoker’s analysis showed that earthworms enhanced soil better than red worms, despite her initial hypothesis that red worms were more efficient.

Smoker’s project was chosen from among the top zoology entries from seventh and eighth grade students representing 81 schools throughout Region 7, which serves Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. Each project must illustrate the student’s understanding of scientific methods and include data collected from scientific experiments. The data analysis is presented orally to a panel of judges and the other entrants. To be eligible for the PJAS Carnegie Museum of Natural History Award, a student must be recommended by consensus by a panel of judges. McLaren, representing the museum, serves as final arbiter and selects the winner from the judges’ recommendations, which are based on the merits and uniqueness of the project.

McLaren, who has been selecting the Carnegie PJAS winners since 1984, enjoys the opportunity to present the award during the ceremony at the close of the day. “The students who win the award are always so visibly excited,” says McLaren. “What is exciting to me is seeing how these students employ scientific methods, as a professional researcher would, and then use their findings to answer a scientific question that has sparked their curiosity and interest.”

The winner of the Carnegie Junior Academy of Science Award receives a Certificate of Excellence, free admission for the student and her family to Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Art , and a gift certificate to the Natural History Store. In addition to winning the Carnegie Museum of Natural History PJAS Award, Smoker’s project received a First Place Award from the PJAS Region 7 judges. The project was also entered in the PJAS State Finals, held at Penn State University, May 16–18, 2010.

Grace is the daughter of Lynne and John Smoker of Bethel Park. Ms. Catherine Borecky, who teaches science at St. Thomas More Catholic School, was Grace’s sponsor.

About Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science
The Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS) is a statewide organization of junior and senior high school students designed to stimulate and promote interest in science among its members through the development of research projects and investigations. More information is available at


Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is among the top natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity. Carnegie Museum of Natural History generates new scientific knowledge, advances science literacy, and inspires visitors of all ages to become passionate about science, nature, and world cultures. More information is available by calling 412.622.3131 or by visiting the website,