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St. Joseph student advances to International Science and Engineering Fair

By Deborah Wilber - | Apr 6, 2022

Photo supplied, Kari Lane

Mercedes Randhahn, a junior at Saint Joseph Catholic High School, is a two-time winner at the University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair. Here, she poses for a picture in the school's laboratory on March 28, 2022, 17 days after winning first place in her category at USEF, advancing her to the International Science and Engineering Fair.

OGDEN — At the age of 16, Saint Joseph Catholic High School junior Mercedes Randhahn is making big strides in her academic career. On March 11, Randhahn took home first place in the medicine, health sciences and biomedical engineering category at the University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair, advancing her to the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Randhahn is one of five students in Utah to advance to ISEF in Atlanta, Georgia. On May 9, they begin a weeklong event presenting their research in the competition of 1,600 students from around the world.

According to Randhahn, roughly 800 contestants win each year.

Having developed a cost-effective extract from the Centella asiatica plant, native to Central Asia, with the ability to induce toxicity to triple-negative breast cancer cells, Radhahn said she hopes at the very least to have her research published.

Randhahn is a two-time winner at USEF, Utah’s largest science fair. After winning at USEF in the eighth grade for her research in deactivating opioids with at home solutions, she competed in the national middle school STEM competition called Broadcom MASTERS.

“You’re not able to apply for it willy nilly,” Randhahn said of Broadcom MASTERS, where she placed second in the engineering award.

In addition to taking first place in her category at USEF this year, she received the Regeneron Biomedical Sciences Award and the Yale Science and Engineering Award.

Randhahn is regarded by her teachers and mentors as being truly gifted. Kory Ulle, former mentor on a science fair project, said Randhahn is one of the brightest, hardest working students he has ever encountered.

Saint Joseph Principal Clay Jones said the school has had a lot of smart kids, but Randhahn’s hard work and determination is not the norm.

“Kids are smart, but they are smart for themselves,” Jones said, praising Randhahn’s willingness to collaborate with her schoolmates.

According to Ulle, Randhahn sets an example for peers and others of the great many things one can accomplish when they put their mind to it.

While Randhahn said she always enjoyed science, she viewed science fairs as more of an academic obligation rather than a particular interest until she realized she could win.

“It grew into an obsession,” she said.

Saint Joseph’s Advancement Director Kari Lane said Randhahn is exceptionally competitive on an academic level.

With a desire to major in chemistry and earn a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school, Randhahn used experiences personal to her to guide her research in alternative treatments to breast cancer as well as the proper disposal of opioids.

Due to her age at the time and the supplementation of opioids with caffeine pills, she chose not to patent her opioid deactivating idea. She did say, however, her study this year on the cytotoxicity of Centella asiatica methanolic leaf extracts on human breast cancer cells is likely to be published.

Saint Joseph biological sciences teacher Patricia Godoy said Randhahn impressed her from the first day she taught her in Advanced Placement research three years ago. “Most of the ideas come from her mind, it’s incredible,” Godoy said.

When the 16-year-old Randhahn graduates next year, having spent her entire educational career at the institution known for its academics, she will be considered a Saint Joseph “lifer.”

“Yes, we have a term, it’s a thing,” Lane said.

According to Lane, Randhahn will be applying to Ivy League schools. As to where she will be applying, Randhahn said it’s confidential.


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