On April 20, 2010, an oil tank in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured, and millions of gallons of oil began to spill into the gulf, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. The effects are still being felt today. In fact, potential solutions to problems like the one BP dealt with that spring are being discovered and tested by an Elmont Memorial High School senior.
Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna has been named a 2016 Intel Science Talent Search finalist for her project, titled “Rheological Characterization of Attapulgite Nanoclay Modified Cement Slurries for Oil Well Applications.” In it, she analyzed oil well samples — specifically from the wells BP used — and devised ways to strengthen the cement used to contain the wells.
The quest to find new ways to fortify cement led Augusta to Dr. Shiho Kawashima, assistant professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics at Columbia University. Last summer, Augusta worked in the lab with Kawashima.
A parent’s praise
Augusta is of Nigerian heritage. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s, but the culture of their home country is still prevalent in her house. Her parents and her three siblings — an older brother and two younger sisters — speak Igbo, the language of their tribe.
When her family heard that she had been named an Intel finalist, they broke out into songs in their native language. Her mother, Basillia, was especially vocal.
“She was singing, she was so happy,” said Augusta. “She was making all this noise in the background.”
Augusta’s love for science is something her parents have tried to foster in not just her, but her siblings as well. Her father, Tobias, is a physical therapist, and her mother was a nurse in Nigeria. Her brother took part in the science research program at Elmont, too, and went to Cornell University after he graduated.
“All of my siblings are naturally bright people,” Augusta said. “I think I got it from my parents.”
Their love and admiration are echoed in the Nigerian community. The Catholic church they attend, St. Fortunata, in Brooklyn, has been active in Augusta’s studies since she was a child. Becoming a finalist is something she wants to share with everyone in the church.