Future Scientist: Meet Olga


May 27, 2009
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olga
 Olga contacted me to get information
about jumping spiders

Today I would like to write about Olga Baszczynska, currently a senior in the International Baccalaureate Program (IBP) at Humble High School.  Olga and her family moved to the USA from Poland four years ago, when her parents won a Green Card in a lottery! 

In order to graduate from the IBP, students must complete an “Internal Assessment,” which is an in-depth paper on a chosen topic.  Inspired by a Discovery Channel program on spiders, Olga decided to use these creatures as the basis for her math paper. 

After researching a number of different spiders, Olga learned about jumping spiders and found them particularly fascinating.  Jumping spiders are known, obviously, for their tremendous jumps; they can leap many times their own body length when capturing prey.  Olga wondered if bigger spiders could jump farther than little ones.  She was not able to find an answer to this, despite searching the literature and calling a number of spider biologists, so she decided to investigate that question for her research project.  We met Olga when she called us to see if we knew anything about jumping spiders.

jumping-spider-2
 Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax)
© Photo credit: Opo Terser

She started her project in the winter, when jumping spiders are not easily found, so on my suggestion she ordered four spiders from Hatari Invertebrates (a small company in Arizona that supplies the Cockrell Butterfly Center with a number of invertebrates from the southwestern USA).  Once she had received her spiders and set them up in separate housing, she was ready to begin her study!

The entire research paper is attached here – I hope readers will be inspired to read it to learn what interesting research a student can do!  In brief, Olga tested four spiders of varying sizes.  She measured the spiders, and then, over several days, measured a series of their jumps.  When she calculated the ratio of the average distance each spider could jump to its body size, she found that indeed, larger spiders could jump father than smaller ones.  However, it was not a directly proportional relationship – the bigger the spider, the farther it could jump relative to its body size.  For example, while the smallest spider could jump just over six times its body length, the largest spider could jump nearly 11 times its body length.  These calculations lent themselves well to graphs and simple statistical analysis.  Olga received a well-deserved “A” for her paper! 

Olga became so fond of her spiders that she kept one as a pet after the experiment had concluded.  She donated the other three to the Cockrell Butterfly Center. 

Science is not Olga’s only interest.  She also enjoys art (especially painting), playing classical guitar, and sports such as volleyball.  And starting next fall, she will be a student in the History Department at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nancy
Authored By Nancy Greig

Nancy is Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and curator of entomology. A plant ecologist by training, she specializes in the interaction between insects, especially butterflies, and plants. The tropics are her favorite habitat, and she heads south to Central and South America whenever possible.

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