Veronica Reynoso recently created a lamp powered by bioluminescent bacteria – Vibrio fischeri – rather than batteries, but was shrouded in darkness when harmful substances in the air shortened the bacteria’s life.
The Kennedy High junior will return to the drawing board at another time. Another project beckons.
Reynoso is creating a prototype for a peltier tile flashlight that works solely on the heat of the human hand – an award-winning creation by Canadian inventor Ann Makosinski the La Palma resident wants to personalize.
Just 16, Reynoso hopes undertaking such complex projects inspires a new generation of youth scientists to shoot for the moon.
“I’m fascinated with how to use my knowledge in science to help other people,” she said.
Her blog, “Youth Science Journal,” has posts such as “Super Moon,” “VEX Robotics: Snap Shot Launcher” and “Cosmic Staircase Star Song.”
Reynoso recently came across an Albert Einstein quote: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”
Even if you don’t get to the correct answer, the teen said, you’re still doing research to create something. That’s why she plans on pursuing an engineering degree in college, ideally at MIT or Caltech.
As a kid, Reynoso read “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” a series of 13 children’s novels that follows three siblings after tragedy befalls their family. Reynoso said she identified most with the character Violet, an “extremely smart girl who knows how to build things that would shade her and her siblings from whoever is getting them in trouble,” she explained.
“I have always liked to build things,” she added.
Reynoso sometimes refers to science as a passion; others, as a career.
She quit Kennedy’s cross country team to dedicate more time to researching, reading, honing her craft. Librarians know her by name and recognize the sound the last student in the building makes when she has an epiphany.
“I’m very much buried in my books because I’m quite often wowed by what I’m reading,” Reynoso said.
In June, Reynoso attended a seminar in Massachusetts for high school honors students interested in becoming physicians or medical scientists.
She heard from Nobel Laureates and National Media of Science winners, Ivy League and top medical school deans and patients saved by medical savants. Nominated for a spot at the seminar by the medical director of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists, Reynoso met several of her heroes.
They shared the same message, she said: Never give up.
“She’s got perseverance,” said Jenny Dai-Jones, Reynoso’s 10th grade math teacher. “She works really hard day in and day out. She sticks with something and is willing to ask for help. She always follows through with her tasks.”
Many of Reynoso’s comments zoom over her friends’ heads.
“Speak English,” they joke. She’s trying.
Reynoso tutors children at her local library. She’s a member of Kennedy’s speech and debate team and active in her English class. She’s learning how to explain her findings in layman’s terms, to an audience less familiar with science and its lingo.
“I first knew Veronica when she was an eighth grader” at Walker Junior High, said Tiffany Weir, Reynoso’s English teacher at Kennedy. “She was a very bright student, very shy, very quiet. But my sense is she is starting to come more out of her shell and is gaining more of a voice in high school.”
Kennedy’s IB students are required to complete a CAS – creativity, activity, service – project by program’s end.
Reynoso and a few classmates chose to examine poverty. Struggling families in the Philippines, in China and elsewhere deserve to have electricity and other basic resources, she said.
Her hollow flashlight and bioluminescent lamp could help millions.
“I have role models and people who’ve inspired me to not be influenced by people who think I have to think this way or that way,” Reynoso said. “I’ve been told I have a gift and I shouldn’t waste it.”