Bridging Faith and Science – Student Essay Takes Top Prize

Connecting God’s divine stamp — Imago Dei — on our lives and a pursuit to innovate and create, is one of the key aspects of Valor’s STEM endorsement. During her research, Liana Hase-Penn ’23 learned how her faith and interest in science intersect.

This summer, Penn focused on the science behind identifying poachers who illegally hunt pangolins as part of Valor’s Technology Student Association (TSA). Pangolins are prickly creatures similar to anteaters in appearance and live in Asia and Africa where they help to maintain the ecosystem by reducing the insect population. They are one of the top mammals exploited and poached for their bushmeat, which is considered a delicacy, along with their scales used for Eastern medicine practices.

“My faith played a role in why I wanted to do this project because I’ve always felt a responsibility to protect and care for God’s creatures,” says Liana, who is considering Valor’s STEM endorsement and competes on Valor’s TSA Team. “I am very interested in STEM and one day want to go into the medical field,” explains Liana, who won first place in the 14-15 year-old category for the Humane Education Network and Animal Welfare Institute essay contest for her piece The Tragic Plight of Pangolins and the Poaching of the Endangered Species

“As I was researching, I discovered that forensics is actually being used to help identify the poachers who have illegally hunted pangolins.” In her essay, Liana reported on findings by the Zoological Society of London and the University of Portsmouth, who have developed this new method of easily lifting pangolin prints such as fingerprints and footprints off of surfaces. 

Liana discovered and wrote about this method in her essay. She highlighted the gelatine lifters which were originally tested on ten actual pangolin scales touched by five people. After applying the lifters and scanning the prints, researchers tested them for accuracy. Finding the gelatine method to be relatively inexpensive and reliable for catching pangolin hunters, they sent a supply to Kenya where many poachers operate. “This fascinating innovation, used to catch pangolin poachers, as well as this essay, has further inspired my desire to explore forensic science and continue involvement with Valor’s TSA Team so I can have more opportunities learning about a potential science career pathway,” explained Liana.

For more information about Valor’s Technology Student Association Team, which meets in Mrs. Shallenberger’s classroom at times that vary by week, contact colleen.shallenberger@valorchristian. Read Liana’s winning essay here.

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