Science and math always have played a big part in Alma High School student Payton Scrivner’s life, she said.

Payton was the first at the high school to bring home a top honor from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair - the world’s largest international pre-college science competition.

She competed in the biochemistry category and received a first place Air Force Research Laboratory award at this year’s fair, which took place in Los Angeles in May.

Though Payton, who will be an AHS senior during the 2017-18 school year, also is an athlete and a dancer, she said science has had the biggest impact on her life.

“It’s been the biggest influence to me. Most people will say sports is their biggest influence, or music or dance is their biggest influence, but science is the one thing I always draw to,” Payton said. “Not just science - STEM in general. Whenever I get stressed out, I always start doing math problems. Numbers are always numbers. It’s my go-to, my happy place.”

Payton, who competed against at least 150 other students in her category, was surprised by her win she said - especially after the announcers accidentally named the winner as being from Arizona rather than Arkansas.

“I was ecstatic,” Payton said.

Payton’s mother Tiffany Scrivner, who also is Payton’s science teacher at Alma, said her daughter’s win was an accomplishment for the school district.

While Alma often places in the regional and state fairs and has taken home the top prize regionally for several years, Tiffany said it was something special for Alma to place at the international fair.

“It was pretty amazing that she got that. We’ve never had anybody place or win any awards (at internationals) during the time I’ve been at Alma,” Tiffany Scrivner said.

In the international fair, there were 1,768 projects with about 70 countries represented, Tiffany Scrivner said. Payton competed against at least 150 other projects, her mother said.

Payton was awarded for outstanding research, she said, because the research for her project was conducted in the high school laboratory.

“All of my judges were super amazed that I had made it to internationals, because everybody else did their research at college campuses,” Payton said.

Many of the other competitors worked under college professors who conducted the research for them, Payton said.

Each year, approximately 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories showcase their independent research and compete for about $4 million in prizes at the Intel ISEF, put on by the Society for Science and the Public.

Intel ISEF is hosted each year in a different city, and the society partners with dozens of corporate, academic, government and science-focused sponsors who provide the support and awards for the science fair.

Student winners are ninth through twelfth graders who earned the right to compete at the Intel ISEF 2017 by winning a top prize at a local, regional, state or national science fair.

Payton’s winning project focused on how silver nanoparticles impact chlorella, a single-cell freshwater algae. She was awarded at the Intel ISEF on May 18 and received a plaque, medal and $750.

Payton first competed with her project at the Alma High School science fair, receiving first place in her category and third overall. She worked on the project for about six months prior to submitting it to the school science fair, she said.

She then placed first place in her category and second overall at the regional science fair - which snagged her a spot to compete at the international fair.

Payton became interested in the subject of nanoparticles after attending the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith STEM Leadership for Girls Conference in 2016, she said. A session on nanoscience peaked her curiosity.

“Nanoparticles are just any sort of particle on a nanoscale, which is just super small,” Payton said.

Her project this year was a continuance of the prior year, during which Payton researched how nanoparticles affected bacteria and how their use as a disinfectant impacts the environment, she said.

Payton plans to enter the medical field for her career and was first interested in combating the growth of staph on surgical trays - but became interested in how nanoparticles used as disinfectants might impact humans, she said.

“I figured, let’s start small … and work my way up, because if it’s harmful to algae then surely it’s harmful to humans - but even if it’s not, it’s still really significant,” Payton said.

This year Payton learned that when silver nanoparticles are released into the chlorella’s environment, the algae takes it in as food rather than its regular food source.

If too much silver gets into a freshwater system, it can kill the algae - which can be a big problem for the environment, Payton said.

“Even though algae is a pest, it’s a water purifier and a source of food,” Payton said.

A loss of algae would cause a chain reaction in the environment, she said.

For chlorella, the intolerance threshold was somewhere between one drop and two of silver nanoparticles given to a specific amount of chlorella, Payton said.

Finding out exactly where that threshold lies may be the subject of Payton’s next science fair project, she said. She also is considering researching how other types of cells are impacted by nanoparticles, if she can access a university lab, she said.

Payton contributes her interest in science to her family, particularly her science-teacher mother. Both her grandmothers were nurses, and her father has a degree in accounting.

When she was little she wanted to be a science teacher like her mother, she said. Tiffany has been a science teacher for 19 years, she said.

“All growing up, science and math and all that have always been my strong suit,” Payton said. “I feel like I’ve grown up in the classroom or the lab.”

For Payton, the process of testing theories and how results lead to new questions and the expansion of knowledge are her favorite qualities of scientific research, she said.

“That’s what I like about science,” Payton said. “There’s always something you can learn.”