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Tomato Tomâto- NYSSEF Finalist

Noa Cordova

Volume 4 Issue 4

May 29, 2024

Tomato Tomâto- NYSSEF Finalist

Image Provided by Mrs. Mansfield

Commonly, “tomato/tomâto” expresses the idea that two things are essentially the same thing despite minor, inconsequential differences. In the case of Ismaela Andre’s research project, this idiomatic expression is far from applicable. Ismaela Andre, a senior Advanced Science Research student, earned her spot as a New York State Science and Engineering Fair (NYSSEF) finalist through her 3-year tomato research project which broadly focused on distinctions between two tomato types. Inspired by her study of Stevia and Splenda sugar in Science Research 9A alongside Mr. DiSclafani, she decided to continue studying sugar. Her freshman-year sugar research concluded that natural sugar, like cane sugar, is the healthiest, and maintained an interest in natural sugars. In Science Research 10, she concentrated on articles related to natural sugars including that of nectar, sunflower seeds, honey, and most notably, fruits. So, how did this well-known household ingredient become the focus of Ismaela’s research project? Peaches and tomatoes were the final contenders for the focus of her research. Her mentor Dr. Samuel Hutton, Associate Professor at the University of Florida, specialized in tomatoes, resulting in her tomato-focused research project. 


Ismaela followed an elaborate process to successfully carry out her research. Her mentor shipped indeterminate and determinate tomato seeds from Florida; indeterminate tomatoes continue to produce until the first autumn frost while determinate tomatoes only produce once. Assisted by Cold Spring Harbor research manager Blaine Fitzgerald, she put the seeds through germination for two weeks at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory greenhouse and transplanted them in Uplands Farm; by mid-September, she had fully grown tomatoes to work with. She measured the brix level, or the sugar content, of the tomatoes using a digital refractometer, which measures exactly that. Using a statistical test called a “t-test”, she found the statistical significance of her data when comparing indeterminate and determinate tomatoes. From her work outside, she began her work inside writing her senior paper. Her paper details significant findings: miniature indeterminate tomatoes had a higher brix level, and the green shoulder effect, a common disorder during the ripening stages of a fruit, does not affect a tomato’s sweetness. Her latter finding clarified a misconception about the relationship between the green shoulder effect and a tomato’s quality; although the abnormality affected tomatoes’ appearance, it does not mean they are “bad.” 


Full interview with Ismaela Andre: 

What was the biggest challenge? 


"I would say the biggest challenge of this process was definitely the connection part…the process of working with your mentor who's in Florida while working in Cold Spring Harbor. The communications were hectic because of the distance, but my professor was good at ensuring I had everything I needed. 


What did you enjoy most? 


“I definitely enjoyed the experience of doing the project…when I would go down to cold spring harbor, plant the seeds and the process of watching the tomatoes grow.” 


What did you take away from the experience?  


“I did get learn how connections are very powerful...if I hadn’t gotten to know my mentor, I wouldn’t have been able to get into the Cold Spring Harbor Lab. Another thing that was equally important was learning the vocabulary of journal articles and annotating them.” 


Ismaela’s research delved deep into a common produce item and produced outstanding results that earned her an honorable mention at NYSSEF. Her hard work distinguished her from the many high school scientists across the state. Naturally, Ismaela will continue to pursue scientific studies as she focuses on chemistry as part of her pre-med track as an aspiring gynecologist. Ismaela shared, “The most valuable lesson for me was the learning experience itself and knowing that no matter where you go, you’ll always learn something new.”   

Congratulations, Ismaela! You are continuing to make North proud. 

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