Cheryl Blackmer, a sophomore of Ballard Senior High School, recently competed at the State Science and Technology Fair of Iowa, held in Ames at Hilton Coliseum. Cheryl and her project titled “Development of a LAMP Assay for the Detection of Powassan Virus” won the Grand Champion Overall, and she received a scholarship award of $1,500.

Cheryl’s project involved developing a cheaper, faster and more readily available method of detecting when someone is infected with the Powassan virus. The Powassan virus can cause encephalitis and consequential death and has many similarities with Lyme disease, including being transmitted by ticks. The Powassan virus has become a threat in the Central and Northwest regions of the United States and Russia after experiencing a 375 percent increase in the last five years.

This is Cheryl’s second time entering this contest. Last year, Cheryl was introduced to the Science Fair by her high school teacher, Allison Maher, who made it a fun and stimulating experience. So much so in fact, that Cheryl spent most of the last year working on a new project for the next year. Even though Ballard Senior High School did not have a school level science fair this year, Cheryl still participated in the state competition. It is doubtful Cheryl would have had the drive and passion to do this project had it not been for the wonderful experience provided by Maher.

In addition to being awarded Grand Champion Overall, Cheryl, who is the daughter of Tracy and Doreen Blackmer, won an additional $2,000 dollar scholarship from the Iowa Biotechnology Association. Cheryl was also named an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2018 finalist, which means she will be going to Pittsburgh in May to compete with 1,500 students from around the U.S. and 40 other countries.