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Natalie Blake – 2017 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Award Winner Southeast Arkansas Regional Science Fair

Freshman, Natalie Blake, 14, who attends Ridgway Christian High School in Pine Bluff, AR won the Soybean Science Challenge at the 2017 Southeast Arkansas Regional Science Fair at the University of Arkansas-Monticello on March 9.

Blake received a $300 cash award provided by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board at the Awards Ceremony. Her science project, “Why so Salty?” tested what soybean variety can cope best with the salt in ground water used for irrigation. Her project won 2nd place in Plant Sciences and progressed to the Arkansas State Science Fair to be held on Friday, March 31 where it will be judged for a Soybean Science Challenge award at the state level.

Diedre Young, Blake’s science teacher, also won the Soybean Science Challenge Teacher Mentor Award. “I was surprised but very pleased! I have been working with students entering this challenge for a number of years now and am thrilled to finally have a student win.” Young said Natalie wanted to do a plant project and Young recommended Natalie do soybeans so she could participate in The Challenge.

Salt in ground water is an issue here in Arkansas as most of our water is obtained from two major aquifers in our area according to Young. Blake obtained her seeds from the free seed store provided by The Challenge and put a lot of time into growing and measuring her soybeans for this project. “Natalie is an excellent student and does very well in my class.”

Blake did not expect to win the Soybean Science Challenge award. “I am only a freshman, and there were some really good projects in my category. I was honored to receive the award.”

For Blake, finding out that soybeans were so versatile was the most appealing part of the Soybean Science Challenge online course. The topic she found most interesting and useful were the variety of uses for soybeans. Blake learned that “soy can be used for anything from cattle food to candles to lotion. A product grown in Arkansas can feed millions of people, and it is easily renewable.”

Before Blake took the online course, she knew soybeans were a major crop in Arkansas, and that there were at least two different kinds of edible soybeans – tofu and edamame. She also knew that soybeans were high in protein and that they were a legume.

Blake gained new information about soybeans through the course. Young said the more important factor in Blake’s participation in The Challenge was what her other students gained. “I now have students who also want to enter this challenge because they saw Natalie win.”
One student told Young that her father plants 1,000 acres of soybeans each year and that soybeans would be the perfect science fair project for next year.

Young also knew very little about soybeans before having her students become involved in The Challenge. She has learned more about soybeans through helping her students participate in the program.

Walter and Shannon Blake, Natalie’s parents, were proud to see her win the award. “Natalie had a lot of support from her science teachers, Diedre Young and Bruce Huddleston and her school mates.

Her parents said early on, Natalie was interested in science. “She picked flowers from the yard, watched bugs in jars and then when she got older, she experimented with rooting different kinds of plant in jars on her windowsill.” Shannon Young said Natalie heard stories about her great-grandmother who could grow plants from a single leaf and thinks Natalie wanted to emulate her. “Natalie has a real green thumb and a soft heart for animals.”

Blake is an honor student who is dedicated to her studies. Her parents said that most of the personality tests she took in Career Planning showed that she gravitated toward agriculture and education.

“The Soybean Science Challenge allows Arkansas senior-high students to participate in scientific discovery that can make a difference to our state and the world. Soybean farmers help feed the world, and Soybean Science Challenge students not only learn about this important commodity crop, they also develop an understanding of the challenges and complexity of modern farming,” said Dr. Karen Ballard, Extension developer and director of the program.

“The goal of the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge is to engage students in “real world” education to support soybean production and agricultural sustainability,” said Gary Sitzer, chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. “The program also rewards scientific inquiry and discovery that supports the Arkansas soybean industry.”

The Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge was launched in January 2014 to 9-12 grade science students. Students who successfully completed the online course were eligible to have their original soybean-related research projects judged at the 2017 ISEF affiliated Arkansas science and engineering fairs.

Information on the 2017-18 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge will be available in summer 2017. For more information, contact Dr. Karen Ballard at

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Natalie Blake – Ridgway Christian High School, Teacher – Diedre Young

Project Title: “Why So Salty?”

Category: Plant Sciences


The purpose of this experiment is to find out what soybean variety can cope best with the salt in groundwater used for irrigation. Soybeans are a huge part of agriculture in Arkansas.

Soybeans were first brought to the United States of America from China in the late 1800s or early 1900s. They were not brought to Arkansas until 1925 by Jacob Hartz Sr.

Groundwater was first used as irrigation for crops in the 1920s. It was not widely used until the 1930s when the equipment needed to get ground water improved. Although groundwater is good, much of the ground water in Arkansas is also bad because it contains salt. The chloride (a chemical found in salt) in the water can burn the plant. There is really no reasonable way as of this time to rid that much water of the salt.

The procedure for this project was to plant 5 of each of three types of soybean seeds in 6 rectangular pots. One pot acted as control (watered with distilled water), and the other five were watered with different levels of salt added. The first will be 100mg/L, then 250mg/L, 500mg/L, 750mg/L, and then 1000mg/L. This represented the levels of chloride found in Arkansas groundwater. This project had no risk factors. The results showed that the Roundup Ready soybeans were most tolerant of high levels of chloride in ground water, followed by conventional soybeans, and then the food grade (tofu) soybeans.

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