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DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. (AP) — Hancock High School sophomore Adara Rutherford said she's really bad at filling out the "About Me" sections on her social media profiles. But the 16-year-old self-described hippie said she has a passion for history, literature, music and the beach. In her free time, she's usually reading, participating in the theater club after school, re-tweeting New Zealand singer Lorde or admiring model Cara Delevingne's eyebrows on Instagram.
She sounds like an average teenager, but Rutherford said her focus on the future is a lot different from that of many of her classmates.
Over the past year, while many peers were shopping for formal dresses, Rutherford spent time collecting water samples from the Bay of St. Louis and Mississippi Sound as part of an expanding science project she started in sixth grade.
This year, her award-winning analysis of seasonal water-quality results derived from a process called chemical titration was selected as one of 400 student projects from around the world to participate in the Genius Olympiad competition in New York City in June.
And Rutherford doesn't just want to submit her project for consideration -- she wants to win.
"I don't really care about prom. I care about what I can do next to get money for this (Olympiad)," she said. She is trying to raise money to pay for her trip to New York City. It will cost about $3,500, and she has so far raised about $1,320 from a GoFundMe.com page. If she is able to attend the Genius Olympiad, she will face competitors from around the world, all of whom have completed environmental research projects. Rutherford is confident her project will put her on top.
"I think I'm going to do really good if I get to go up there," she said. "A small-town girl can beat all y'all."
Four years ago, she didn't want to produce a typical project for her middle school science fair.
With encouragement from her mom, Destin Rutherford, she collected water samples to check them for dissolved oxygen (DO) levels. The readings would tell if the water was safe for South Mississippians to swim in and if it was safe to eat seafood that came from that water. She began collecting samples in 2011, one year after the Deepwater Horizon oil well spewed millions of gallons of crude into Gulf waters.
"I thought (the project) looked really cool — and I got to go the beach," she said.
The 12-year-old would scoop up water, add chemicals to it as part of the titration process, and use a thin needle to push any impurities down until the water was clear to check for the DO level.
"If the DO is too low, your animals can start dying off because they need oxygen to breathe," she said.
Her sixth-grade project was well received, and she expanded upon it each year. She went on to test pH levels in South Mississippi waters, and began checking salinity levels. She also checked for clarity in the water, known as turbidity.
In the most recent installment of her project, she began in August collecting water samples from Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Pass Christian. Binnaz Bailey with the University of Southern Mississippi toxicology center let Rutherford use one of the program's probe machines to retrieve data.
She grabbed water samples again in October, December and February and tested them to see if there was a seasonal variation in water quality. Her results indicated the water stayed pretty healthy throughout the changes of season.
"They were consistent a lot this year, which is rare," she said.
Her project took third place at the regional competition in March at the Coast Coliseum. It was there she received her Genius Olympiad nomination, along with awards from the state Department of Marine Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Metric Association, the American Meteorological Society and the Association for Women Geoscientists.
"I'm beyond proud," Destin Rutherford said of her daughter. "She is my pride and joy."
Adara Rutherford said Genius Olympiad participants are allowed to dress in business attire or clothing that represents their culture. If her mother allows her, she wants to wear her shorts and wading boots during her presentation.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com
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