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'Curious' teen claims honors at national science fair

HEBER CITY, Utah — For Emily Willis, it is not just an aptitude for science but an innate attention to detail and a talent at communication that won for her top honors at a recent three-day competition in Washington, D.C., among the nation's top 40 science students from middle schools.

Emily, 14, is a student at Wasatch Mountain Junior High School and, at the time she received the honor late in October, was president of her Beehive class in the Heber 1st Ward, Heber City Utah Stake. She is now in the Mia Maid class.

"She's always been very curious and asked a lot of questions," said her mother, Julie.

She comes by it naturally; both Sister Willis and her husband, Grant, are geologists.

"When she got into the seventh grade, the teacher she had, Kimberly Conlin, helped her focus on using the scientific method and seeing how broad science is," Sister Willis said. "She helped her see that there is a lot of variety in science, particularly in genetics and marine biology, which is what caught Emily's interest."

As a result, Emily developed a science fair project on brine shrimp, the creatures indigenous to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The project focused on how environmental factors affect hatching. That led to her involvement in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge, which is judged by some of the nation's top scientists. Emily won an award for precision and accuracy.

"I had worked really hard on my project," Emily said, "so I was really happy to find out how far working hard and just keeping on going gets you."

Her mother said one of the things the parents have emphasized at home is communication. "The Discovery Channel Science Challenge is not just looking for good science but good communicators of science," she said. "She wasn't judged just on her project, but also on her ability to attend to detail and solve problems. She is a very detail-oriented person and likes to ask lots of questions and figure out answers to them."

Emily said she enjoyed meeting and talking with other young people from other areas of the country.

"I'm very, very grateful to be a member of the Church, and I know that it has helped me through my whole life," she said. "My Heavenly Father always helps me. I always could turn to Him when I was frustrated with my project."

She said that during her trip to Washington, she had the opportunity to have some discussions about the Church with some of the people she met. "I had never really been able to do that before," she said. "I was quite nervous about it, but once the time came, I just stuck to what I knew. I was very happy that I was able to have those experiences."

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