Budding scientists around Massachusetts can draw inspiration from Jacqueline Flynn, the 16-year-old Braintree High School student whose research on killing ticks in clothes dryers has attracted the interest of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the course of figuring out how to get ticks off her own clothes, Flynn noted that the federal agency recommends putting tick-infested clothing in the dryer for an hour. She began investigating the issue as a science fair project and discovered that even five minutes on low heat could do the job. As Flynn’s project picked up awards, word of her findings spread. Eventually she ended up discussing them with the CDC, whose recommendations could change if peer-reviewed studies confirm what Flynn found. The episode is a reminder that high school projects can make contributions to scientific knowledge.
There’s something else to Flynn’s discovery: It shows how significant advances against diseases can come not from research in far-off labs, but from people close to the problem. Lyme disease, the potentially debilitating illness caused by a bacterium carried by ticks, is named after a town in Connecticut and poses a significant risk to people in forested areas throughout New England. So residents of the region have reason to be especially alert for simple measures that can reduce the danger of contracting the disease. As Flynn’s project shows, combating diseases depends not just on rigorous methodology, but on open eyes and an inquiring mind.