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Alina Suedbeck, a local high schooler mentored by ECU faculty, has translated her childhood love of insect collecting into research that earned a spot in an international science competition. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


Local student enters international science competition

May 3, 2013

By Kathryn Kennedy and Caroline M'Coy
ECU News Services

A home-schooled high school student mentored by East Carolina University faculty is one of only eight North Carolina students to compete this month in the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Alina Suedbeck will present her research on the pores of different caterpillar species at Intel ISEF, the world's largest international pre-college science competition. The event is scheduled this year for May 12-17 in Phoenix, Ariz.  Suedbeck is the first from the state’s northeastern region to be accepted into the ISEF.

Her research began when she applied for the inaugural Biodiversity Scholarship from the ECU Center for Biodiversity, open to Pitt County high school students conducting research on local plant and animal diversity. Participating students were matched with faculty mentors to assist them in project planning.

“Since I could swing a net and run, I've been collecting bugs, and because of my 4-H club I learned how to preserve insects professionally,” Suedbeck said. “From this project, I collected about 50 caterpillars. While rearing these caterpillars, I noticed that caterpillars from wet environments died in my moist jars, and vice versa.
Suedbeck's research focuses on diversity among species of caterpillars.

“This lead me to theorize that just like people who go from humid to desert and their mouth or nose gets dry, so do caterpillars, which meant their spiracles (breathing pores) must vary per species.”

Suedbeck was paired with Dr. Tom Fink, and also received statistical advice from Dr. Tim Christensen. Both men are professors in the Department of Biology and work in the ECU Center for Biodiversity.

The students presented their work at ECU’s annual Earth Day Expo on April 18. Suedbeck won the scholarship competition, which comes with a $1,000 cash prize, and first place in the N.C. Northeast Regional Science and Engineering Fair at ECU.

Her research has now earned her other awards, including third place in her division at the state competition of the N.C. Student Academy of Sciences on March 15 at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.  In addition, she won first place in her division at the state Science and Engineering Fair on March 16 at Meredith College in Raleigh. That qualified her for the international competition in Phoenix this month.

“I do get nervous before competitions, even though talking to scientists is a lot of fun,” Suedbeck said. “The way I focus is that I remind myself that this is an opportunity to share this exciting and fascinating information with others, which is something I greatly enjoy doing.”
Alina is the daughter of Dorothy and John Suedbeck. She has been offered a $10,000 scholarship to Meredith College.

More information about the International Science and Engineering Fair is available online at

Visit the ECU Center for Biodiversity online at