High school senior sinks her teeth into enamel research

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Submitted/Laura Beth Fulton uses a blue light to apply the Enamel Bond solution she is patenting. Submitted/Laura Beth Fulton uses a blue light to apply the Enamel Bond solution she is patenting.

Dental lab work earns Laura Beth Fulton, 18, a spot in semifinals of national science competition

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Earlier this month, Egg Harbor Township High School senior Laura Beth Fulton was named a semifinalist in the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search, a prestigious precollege science competition.

Fulton, 18, is in the process of patenting a tooth enamel that could have implications around the globe.

Laura Stetser/Laura Beth Fulton is a senior at Egg Harbor Township High School. She made the semifinals of the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search

For the last two years, she has been working on the project as an invited student researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, where she was able to research and test her ideas. There, she shadowed other professional researchers as she researched the subject and became familiar with the technology needed to test her hypothesis.

Her work paid off. Today, Fulton is working with a patent lawyer to protect her research, the discovery of a bonding agent that allows synthetic enamel to adhere to damaged teeth.

“It’s essentially enamel,” Fulton said. “It has the natural structure of it and is biocompatible. It’s safer than amalgam fillings. And it does not leach BPA like resin fillings. It’s durable and only takes 30 seconds for application.”

The speed of application of the enamel is important for the avoidance of bacteria, she pointed out.

She calculated that the cost per application could be as low as 53 cents.

“This could help in Third World countries where dental care is desperately needed,” she said.

Her dental research was the foundation of her selection in the Intel Science Talent Search, a contest open to high school seniors. Winners are chosen based on a research report and factors that include a display of exceptional research skills, a commitment to academics and their communities, innovative thinking, and promise as a scientist.

The competition recognizes and rewards 300 students, and their schools, as semifinalists each year. From that pool, 40 finalists are invited to Washington, D.C., to undergo final judging in March, display their work to the public, meet with scientists and compete for $630,000 in awards, including the top award of $100,000.

Fulton, the daughter of Joan Vicari and Bill Fulton, has a resume that fills three pages and includes many other accolades she has received, including her selection as one of the 30 students across the country to be chosen as a 2013 Siemens Competition Regional Finalist.

  Submitted/The Egg Harbor Township senior prepares teeth to be re-enameled. Submitted/The Egg Harbor Township senior prepares teeth to be re-enameled.

But she doesn’t spend all of her time in the laboratory. By 2011 when she was 16, she had already earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, the organization’s equivalent of the Boy Scouts Eagle Scout designation. The service award came for her “Science for Success Project,” in which she encourages young girls to explore careers in the field. She is routinely a feature public speaker at various events.

Principal Terry Charlton said Fulton is one of the “most impressive students” he has seen go through the school.

“In my 20 years here, we have had a lot of gifted students. But what’s most impressive about Laura is that she combines her considerable academic gifts with an equal amount of initiative and work ethic. She works to her maximum potential, and that’s what colleges want to see these days.”

Shelley Grossman, her guidance counselor, said the way Fulton takes initiative sets her apart.

“She develops her own projects, even within her community service. She’s very creative and is a self-starter. She is such a focused student who started at an early age,” she said.

Grossman said Fulton’s interest in science was sparked during a science fair at Fernwood Avenue Middle School.

While she didn’t reach the finals, as a semifinalist Fulton received $1,000 and won $1,000 for Egg Harbor Township High School. She said she hoped that her advanced physics teacher Jhisook Park would take her and her classmates on a field trip for some hands-on learning opportunities.

Fulton is applying to colleges and plans study biomechanical or mechanical engineering or dentistry.


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