LaGuardia Community College Honors Student Takes Top Prize in National Science Poster Competition

Long Island City, NY—November 27, 2013—Wai (Kat) Lam, a LaGuardia Community College honors student, took first prize in a national science poster presentation competition, beating out honor students from community colleges, four-year colleges and research institutions.

“Kat’s success in the competition was quite an achievement because she was not only competing against honor students from four-year colleges, but she was up against honor students attending research one universities,” said Dr. Preethi Radhakrishnan, her faculty mentor, who added that only 60 percent of the abstract proposals were accepted.  “It demonstrates the high caliber of academic and research work that is taking place at LaGuardia.”

Sponsoring the Best Student Poster Presentation competition was the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), a national association of honors program at four- and two-year colleges.  The contest took place at the council’s annual convention in New Orleans.

Kat’s research project, which wowed the judge, looked at the effects alcohol has on the courtship, mating choices and fertility of fruit flies.  “The relationship that may exist between alcohol consumption and reproductive health is still unclear,” she said.

The young researcher broke up the experiment into three parts: the food and alcohol consumption of her subjects; how alcohol affects courtship behavior and mating; and, finally, how alcohol affects the number of off springs an intoxicated fruit fly will sire.

In the first part of the experiment, the fruit flies, fed with either non-alcoholic food or alcohol, gravitated to the alcohol.  “The first discovery was that fruit flies have an innate preference for alcohol,” said Kat.

When the males were introduced to the females, the inebriated group clearly exhibited more courtship behavior than the sober males.  They tried to impress their mates by performing the elaborate courtship dance that includes wing waving and licking, and made several attempts at copulation.  After totaling various behaviors, Kat found that despite their enthusiasm, the drunk males did not have a higher mating percentage than their less aggressive counterparts.

The findings of the third part of the research—the number of offsprings sired—proved the most interesting.  The team found that fruit flies fed alcohol sired fewer progeny than the non-alcoholic males.

Kat explained that it is known that alcohol causes stress to an organism by producing Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen within body tissue, in particular, gametic tissue.  An increase in stress levels potentially causes a rise in ROS levels, which can result in significant damage to the gametic tissue.

“We can hypothesize that low fertility in alcohol-fed males might be linked to low sperm viability in males due to high stress and high ROS production,” said Kat.

In the next stage of their continuing research, Dr. Radhakrishnan and Kat plan on further examining sperm viability.  Once they gather their data, they hope to publish their research findings.

For the 20-year-old who immigrated from China in 2011, it has been a whirlwind experience.  Upon settling in Flushing with her mother, she worked at a supermarket, and in her spare time, spent time reading books in the library as a way to improve her English. In 2012 she was ready to enroll at LaGuardia.

“I decided to go to a community college because I knew I would get more faculty support,” said Kat.

At LaGuardia, she not only met supportive faculty but also entered a rich academic environment where she flourished.  She excelled in biology classes and discovered research.

“Kat is a superstar,” said Dr. Radhakrishnan.  “She has won a host of scholarships and awards for her academic achievement.”

Outside of the classroom, she is an executive member of the college’s Honors Student Advisory Committee (HSAC).

Kat will be graduating in December, but plans on continuing her research with Dr. Radhakrishnan and as a volunteer researcher at Sloan Kettering, while taking classes at Barnard College through the LaGuardia-Barnard Intercollegiate Partnership program.  And by the fall of 2014 she hopes to be enrolled in the pre-med program in one of her top choices—Cornell, Johns Hopkins or Barnard.  But wherever she goes, she hopes to do research.

“I never thought I could achieve all that I have,” said Kat.  “I have to thank LaGuardia for the academic experience and the opportunities it gave me, and the faculty who supported me.”

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 LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit to learn more.