By Seth Daniel
It was a simple fishing trip, and his curious nature, that sent Joe Dello Russo on a scientific journey that would – most recently – take him to Washington, D.C. as a state delegate to a professional science conference.
Several years ago, Joe his two brothers and his father, John Sr., were fishing on Deer Island when Joe lifted up a rock and found an invasive species of crab.
He wanted to know what it was, and why it was there.
“I told him about it and that it was a great science fair project,” said his father. “Why don’t you figure out to get rid of them? That’s how it started.”
Since the 6th grade, the 17-year-old has been whittling down a project to make the male crabs infertile using certain chemicals – chemicals that would be put into special food and thereby reducing the overall numbers in the area and the damage they do to the ecology. Last year, his project took first place at the State Science Fair in MIT – which helped him to earn a trip to Washington, D.C. in mid-February for a professional science conference.
Joe attended the National American Junior Academy of Science (AJAS) meeting Feb. 10-12. As one of only 17 delegates from Massachusetts and fewer than 200 nationwide. There, he presented both a poster on his first place State Science Fair project, as well as an oral Power Point presentation on the subject of invasive crabs and the unique control method he proposed in his project.
“This was really an incredible experience for Joe,” said his father. “I am a biologist at Mass General and this would be like any professional science conference I might go to. He had the unique opportunity to get feedback and learn from professionals about his project. That’s invaluable.”
The project was received well and with much interest, they said.
“The overall goal is to reduce the numbers of invasive crabs in the area,” said Joe during a recent interview at his home. “I’ve been working towards that goal since sixth grade. I tried to find the right chemicals so that if the crabs eat this food with the right chemical, the males will be infertile, effectively lowering the population.”
To do that, the Dello Russo house was littered with fish tanks and sea urchins – which are easier to work with for artificial impregnation experiments, Joe said. He tested chemicals with some sea urchins and had control group as well.
It resulted in quite an interesting group of experiments running all over the house.
But that’s nothing new to the family, which consists of three boys – all of whom have excelled in science and have enjoyed conducting science in the basement, the kitchen, the front room and even the backyard on occasion, their mother, Patty, said.
In addition to the presentations, Joe and the other delegates attended a breakfast with scientists from around the country. This was held at the American University where they talked over science projects, both their own and that of the faculty. They also received advice on pursuing a science career.
Throughout the conference, Joe said he was able to attend lectures given by leading scientists on cutting edge subjects. The delegates also attended a social event at the United States Botanic Garden. At a dinner banquet held at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Joe and the other delegates were inducted as fellows with life membership to the AJAS Society.
The trip left Joe and his parents feeling very confident in their education at Revere Public Schools.
“When you look at a Lexington or the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science, they have the funding and support to do this kind of science,” said John. “Most of the kids work in partnership with Brown or Tufts. Here, we have Joe doing a high grade project in his house. This is advanced stuff. Revere students can really compete with the private schools.”
Said Patty, “For us, we’ve had three boys, three different personalities, and all were interested in science and I believe they have gotten a phenomenal education at the Revere Public Schools.”