San Antonio teen wins national honors while trying to prove mom wrong

Joanna Sohn will compete in national STEM competition from Oct. 16 - 21

Are parents always right? An 8th grader at Keystone won national honors after putting her mom’s advice to the test.

SAN ANTONIO – Are parents always right? An 8th grader at Keystone won national honors after putting her mom’s advice to the test.

During the last academic year, Joanna Sohn’s mother added something new to her daily routine that didn’t sit well with the then middle schooler.

“It originally started off because my mother forced me to eat probiotics daily,” Sohn said.

Sohn had some doubts, which sparked the idea of a science project to hopefully prove mom wrong.

“I wanted to investigate the effects of probiotics, metformin on ischemia, reperfusion injuries on roundworms,” Sohn said.

Sohn wanted to determine whether probiotics were actually beneficial for her health, and she did it by using roundworms.

“I treated the roundworms in three different timeframes: five days before hypoxia, two days before hypoxia and one day after hypoxia,” Sohn said. “Hypoxia is, like, where there isn’t any oxygen, basically. So I used nitrogen through a chamber.”

Joanna Sohn, a 13-year old STEM student from San Antonio has been named one of the most promising middle school STEM students in the country. (KSAT)

Her science project is also testament to the young student’s resiliency and creativity.

“There wasn’t a commercially available one at the school so, I had to make my own out of a Tupperware container,” Sohn said. “It was only one (Tupperware) because I put the C elegans (roundworms) in micro centrifuge tubes.”

Then came the microscopic analysis that would help determine if she’d have to keep taking the probiotics.

San Antonio 13-year-old named one of nation’s top STEM students

“I found that certain probiotics and concentrations of metformin had definitive and therapeutic effects,” Sohn said.

When asked if the findings has convinced her to follow her mom’s advice, Sohn said, “Yeah, unfortunately.”

Sohn continues to take her probiotics, which doctors say may help prevent ischemic or coronary heart disease, a disease Sohn said runs in her family.

Her project, ""The Effect of Probiotics and Metformin on C. elegans after Treatment in a Hypoxia Chamber: Year II" was within the top 10 percent of regional and state science fairs, allowing Sohn to apply to the 10th annual Broadcom MASTERS, a national STEM competition for middle schoolers. The competition is organized by the Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science & the Public. Her project won her a $500 cash prize.

“Our school has a long tradition of excelling in science fair, and Joanna is proudly representing it,” Edmund Tijerina, director of strategic marketing and communications for Keystone School said. “Joanna is the only one in the top 30 and she’s the only one in Texas (to be named a finalist). We’re just so happy and proud of Joanna.”

Sohn’s future plans include becoming a doctor and competing in the final competition which is set to take place virtually from Oct. 16 through Oct. 21.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.