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Sat Feb 23, 2019, 09:37 AM

Glowing Wounds at Shiloh, An Interesting Tale From the Westinghouse/Intel Science Awards.

I'm not too much into that concept of "gifted children" and although I wasn't a regular listener to "Prairie Home Companion" I always got a laugh out of Garrison Keillor's continuously repeated little joke about "Lake Woebegon's" children all being "above average."

I've seen a lot of children ruined by being declared "gifted." It happened to me, and though I eventually recovered, a part of my life was wasted.

I have a relative who ruined her son's life by carrying on about how "gifted" he was, and he was in his thirties before he held a job or finished college. The same relative has convinced her daughter to pull her first grader, her granddaughter now, out of public school, because she's "too gifted" to be among "mere first graders."

Some people never learn.

It sucks. It really sucks.

I sent my sons to a public school. I let them decide what classes in which they would feel comfortable. One of them decided not to take "honors classes" in 9th grade and nevertheless was admitted to a damned good university with 30 college credits by the time he finished high school. He never thought he was smarter than anyone else; in fact, he had the good fortune to think he was rather ordinary. The other son was dyslexic, and got treated like shit in school, put in with the "slow kids" but stuck it out, went on to do his thing, and will graduate this spring with a 4.0 from a very good art school.

Neither of my sons were declared, "gifted," by me or my wife, and if anyone outside our family started in with any of that crap, we cut them off.

The "gifted" meme exists nonetheless. And apparently there's a journal devoted to "gifted children..."

I'm going through some old files I downloaded at the library but never actually read, and came upon a directory I called "Shiloh" back in 2016.

I couldn't imagine what caught my eye back then, so I just had to look.

"Gifted" or not, the story herein, from a journal devoted to the "gifted" is compelling; being about a kid classified as having a "specific learning disability..." but won a prestigious Intel Science Award anyway.

Um...um...um...

Talent Development in Science: A Unique Tale of One Student’s Journey

The full paper at this link is available, but I'll quote from it anyway. I have the full article in my file, on which apparently I somehow stumbled back in 2016, how, I can't recall.

From the open introduction:

Science fairs have long been the showcase of gifted students across the United States. The following story describes the path of one student as he developed a project that eventually won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this case is that this gifted student was atypical in numerous respects in his pursuit to win this prestigious competition. First, he had been identified years earlier with a specific learning disability. He also suffered from bouts of depression and experienced social isolation. Not surprisingly, he was unmotivated. Finally, he did not like school. The typical response to this type of student would include medication, social skill instruction, and remediation. Instead, his parents firmly believed that more was to be gained by accentuating the positives, so they encouraged him to pursue his passions and follow his dreams...


It was his parents, they knew what to do...

...To understand the uniqueness of this triumph, we need to explore how Bill was able to accomplish this feat despite his disabilities and school difficulties. A twice-exceptional learner in school, Bill was plagued throughout his school career by mild depression, as well as learning and attention deficits. School was not always an ideal environment for him. Bill was diagnosed as learning disabled in 7th grade when the school system finally acknowledged that there was a 2-year discrepancy between his ability and performance. But, Bill’s problems had surfaced as early as preschool. Poor peer relations, inappropriate social behaviors, and a reluctance to complete written assignments punctuated his early childhood years...

...The pupil personnel team thought Bill was just lazy and recommended remediation. His parents had him tested privately. His scores on the various WISC subtests ranged from the 4th to the 99th percentile. He was diagnosed as depressed, and medication was recommended. His parents objected and instead insisted that the source of the depression be the focus of attention. To this end, Bill transferred to a school with a gifted education program in which he participated and, in addition, received support in organization and learning strategies. Bill regained some success in this setting...


Been there, done that, school officials "recommending medication..."

Um, in our case there is no medication for dyslexia, and the training of school officials is mostly not in medicine.

So it turns out that Bill had an interest in Civil War history, and in the 4th grade, after reading about how soldiers in the Civil War had sometimes boiled used bandages because they had no replacements - even though sterilization was unknown - Bill won a high school award for a study of Civil War sterilization techniques, which were apparently used because of experience and observation, not any scientific understanding of the pathology of infection or any knowledge of microbiology:

Although both of Bill’s parents had a background in science, Bill did not seem to share their enthusiasm for it. In fact, he needed to be coaxed to achieve in his science classes at all. A notable exception, however, was the middle school science curriculum, which included opportunities for students to conduct original research projects and enter local science fair competitions. Bill’s first entry during middle school tapped his knowledge about an event that had occurred during the Civil War.

Bill had learned that, after one long battle, a battalion had exhausted its supply of bandages. To address this problem the medical corps decided to reuse the soiled bandages by first boiling them. Motivated by hearing this story, Bill generated a project describing the sterilization techniques used in the Civil War. This project won him first place in a competition for his school. Reinforced by this success, Bill began to understand that there are historic connections to scientific discoveries and that his interest in and knowledge of history could serve as an entry point for science investigations. Indeed, the internationally award-winning project was his fourth involving the Civil War


By tenth grade, Bill finally made a close friend:

During his sophomore year, in fact, Bill failed the standard (traditional) biology course, but convinced authorities that he could enroll in an AP course during the summer at a local college. He excelled in this 6-hour-a-day class and received an A for the course. “I hated the way biology was taught in my school. It was mostly listening to a lecture and writing tests and papers,” Bill explained. “In the AP course we had lab every day, and during the lecture we discussed what happened in the lab. I took the AP exam the next spring and scored a 4. I would have gotten a 5, but I was tired when I got to the essay, as it was my second exam of the day. I was amazed how well I did since I did very little review.”

Bill remained unenthusiastic about his school’s science class until he met John, who happened to be in the same chemistry class. Bill said, “John is my polar opposite. That is why we complement each other well. We liked each other right away. He could keep up with my jokes and me. He is quick-witted like I am and also a smart-aleck.” Chemistry was fun with John in the class, and Bill received an A for the course, but had no interest in entering a competition that year…


Bill read a report about wounds at Shiloh, the first Civil War battle do result in massive casualties, glowing. His friend John, unlike Bill, had a strong interest in entering what was then known as the "Westinghouse Science Award" competition for high school kids.

According to oral history, injured soldiers were observed to have glowing wounds. It is important to remember that, in the 1860s, sanitation and sterile surgery techniques were not well known or practiced. Many soldiers at that time survived their wounds initially, only to die of secondary staph infections or face amputation due to gangrene infection. According to the story, those soldiers who exhibited glowing wounds survived their wounds more often than the casualties whose wounds did not glow. When Bill heard this tale, he passed it on to John, and the two of them then explored the possibilities of investigating this intriguing phenomenon.


The kids did some research, and they speculated that the glowing bandages may have involved luminescent bacteria.

The boys began to investigate the feasibility of discovering whether this type of bacterium could be the source of the glowing wounds of the Shiloh story. Preliminary research revealed important information about the conditions existing at Shiloh that could explain the presence of these bacteria. The Battle of Shiloh was fought on a flood plain during a cool, wet spring—perfect conditions for nematodes and P. luminescens, which the nematodes carry. The soldiers were constantly struggling in the mud, and, in many cases, the wounded were left in the cool dampness of the mud for several hours. These wounded soldiers quickly developed hypothermia, which, again, would provide the perfect environment for growth of these bacteria. The P. luminescens does not grow well at body temperature, but if body temperature drops a few degrees, as in the case of hypothermia, the bacterium reproduces rapidly.


Long story, short: Working with tools from Bill's mother's lab, the boys prepared a lot of bacterial cultures with various media to simulate wounds, proved their hypothesis about the luminescent bacteria (which are, by the way, "good bacteria" inasmuch as they produce antibiotics, and entered the contest:

The judges of the two major competitions—Siemens Westinghouse and Intel ISEF—each viewed with much admiration Bill and John’s PowerPoint presentation and display of their study. Moreover, these young scientists impressed the judges sufficiently to come away with first place in the Intel ISEF Competition in 2001 and second place in the Siemens Westinghouse Competition.

Winning these awards encouraged the boys to continue their research. They would like to test the soil at Shiloh to further confirm their hypotheses. Furthermore, they are interested in learning more about the healing potential of P. luminescens bacteria. Given the persistence that has characterized their work thus far, they will very likely make the time and find the resources to continue their unique collaboration.


Cool story. I probably picked the paper because I am personally interested in the history of the American Civil War, a war caused in part, or at least triggered by, the incompetence of a President, James Buchanan, who was generally regarded by historians at the worst President in US history, at least until Trump came along.

Have a great weekend.


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Reply Glowing Wounds at Shiloh, An Interesting Tale From the Westinghouse/Intel Science Awards. (Original post)
NNadir Feb 2019 OP
FM123 Feb 2019 #1
in2herbs Feb 2019 #2
eppur_se_muova Feb 2019 #3
NNadir Feb 2019 #4

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat Feb 23, 2019, 10:13 AM

1. What a great article, really warms my heart.

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Response to FM123 (Reply #1)

Sat Feb 23, 2019, 10:41 AM

2. Agree. A great article. nt

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat Feb 23, 2019, 01:58 PM

3. Wow, my money was on glowing fungi ...

... after all, many fungi produce antibiotics. A bacterium producing a bacteria-fighting substance ? Well, why not, it's all no-holds-barred competition at the microbe level.

I guess I was lucky, and got double-promoted before the "gifted" label came along, and never got stuck with that. First time I heard the word "gifted", I detested it. It sounds like someone gave you something, and you're supposed to be grateful. As to who gave the gift -- well, that seemed to suggest religious overtones. But then I also disliked the term "exceptional" children when I first heard it, because everyone's exceptional in one way or another, and the label is (deliberately, to avoid stigma, I'm sure) ambiguous or even confusing. Perhaps there are no labels which are happy usages to both the labeled and the labelers.

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Response to eppur_se_muova (Reply #3)

Thu Feb 28, 2019, 07:33 PM

4. My personal experience with glowing organisms has been limited to red tides...

...in California many years ago, and fireflies here in the Northeast, so I really had no opinion one way or the other.

I wasn't aware of phosphorescent fungi, but I'm sure there are some, and perhaps you know more.

My problem wasn't being "gifted" or "exceptional" in school. I had the misfortune while in third grade to have an "IQ" test which in my time was very talismanic.

From then on, whenever I didn't do well on something it was "because I wasn't applying myself."

Now, my father had an eight grade education; he dropped out to shine shoes and help feed his family when his father abandoned the family. My mother had a 10th grade education; she dropped out to get a job.

When I was growing up, the only book in my house, besides the bible was a Bible commentary, although we did get tabloid newspapers which my father read religiously and in great detail, complaining about the "Left Wing" editorials in Newsday at that time, and loving the (then) right wing NY Daily News.

I had the "Golden Books Child's Encyclopedia," my text books, and could take out books from my limited elementary and Junior/Senior High School libraries. My town did not have a public library.

My parents however heard I had a "high IQ" and ran like hell with that idiotic number. (Imagine that, the claim that you predict a person's whole life with a two or three digit number. I ridiculed that idea elsewhere: A Note on This Race and IQ Business.

The times I grew up in were less stupid than modern times, but that doesn't mean that they weren't stupid in many other ways.

Later, when I was well into high school, my parents bought me an Encyclopedia Britannica.

Freeman Dyson told me that he learned Calculus from those Encylopedias. I sure as hell didn't. I wouldn't have known where to start. I learned calculus from a senile old high school teacher with missing teeth and probably in the early stages of dementia.

That IQ thing was brought up through much of my early life, and it was horrible.

I understand that my parents were uneducated, and though very bright in their own ways, and that they loved me and wanted the best. But they put pressure on me to do things they knew nothing about. That didn't work.

After my parents died, I started giving lectures to my kids about science and stuff in front my aunt, and I was surprised by her perceptive remark, "Don't you do that to those boys. You didn't like it when your mother did it to you!"

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