Science Superstar

Elaine Mork Is Set To Slay In Her Field

Rowan MacIntyre, News Editor

City Creek Mall Security’s most wanted list. Mosquito vs windshield. A couple dozen dead roses and some mysterious chemicals. 

Many would assume that work stories shared by a scientist would involve a long day in a lab, spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of data, and maybe even a cocktail of chemicals if things got interesting. However, the stories of Elaine Mork, Highland High’s Science Sterling Scholar, are often much more exciting. They come from the many experiments and research projects that she has completed over the years, as well as various outdoors adventures.

Not even out of high school yet, Mork has already had extensive experience in researching and gathering data on the world around her. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma candidate and a future marine biologist, she has written her fair share of research papers; several being experiment-based. 

Mork’s projects have spanned various subjects in the natural world, including dissolved oxygen in Salt Lake City watersheds, modeling glacier recession with derivatives, and fishery studies. The topic of each endeavor was inspired by something out in the world that had sparked Mork’s interest. So far, two of her most ambitious projects: the Chemistry Internal Assessment (IA) and Extended Essay (EE), have tied back into Mork’s passion for marine biology. 

“My chemistry IA [an experiment-based paper] was a field work-based investigation into the effects of urbanization on water quality, specifically dissolved oxygen,” Mork said. 

Inspiration for her IA stemmed from Mork wanting more real-world experience in field work, which she hopes to incorporate into both her college studies and career.

“My interest in the marine sciences prompted the water-quality focus. I am also fascinated by human-environment interactions, which is what helped me choose the topic,” said Mork.

Mork’s fascination with marine life and environments manages to show up in her work in a variety of subjects. However, it’s when Mork has a bit more freedom with what she writes about, like with the EE, a 4,000-word research paper for the IB diploma, that her passion truly shines. 

“My EE is about sustainability in sockeye salmon commercial fisheries, specifically the Bristol Bay and Columbia River Basin fisheries. I first became fascinated with salmon and Arctic ecosystems when I visited Juneau last year and fell in love with glaciers and got to watch salmon travel upstream,” said Mork, “the vitality of both glaciers and salmon to their ecosystems captured my attention. Salmon specifically are incredible because they are keystone species in every sense of the word and are important to the human communities surrounding them.” 

Mork’s interest in salmon fisheries intensified when she took a fishing trip to Seward, Alaska in the summer of 2022. She not only got to experience salmon runs and fishery management first-hand, but was also struck by how the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was able to balance the wellbeing of both salmon populations and the needs of recreational, commercial, and subsistence fisheries. 

“I am very interested in researching how human-environment interactions can be made sustainable and prosperous,” Mork said.

Outside of her academic endeavors, Mork spends her free time on things that still indulge her love of science. She spends time volunteering with the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and the Utah Water Watch, an organization that monitors water quality in the state of Utah. 

Mork also organizes Highland’s Science Environmental Adventure Club, or SEAC, a club that focuses on outdoor adventures and enjoying the Utah environment through hiking, biking, canyoneering, snowshoeing, and more. 

Mork’s projects and outdoor adventures over time have resulted in not only good data and even better memories, but also in many funny stories from the field. 

From mosquito smashing that led to a cracked windshield to snowshoeing down a ravine to collect water samples, Mork has proven that science can be highly entertaining.

“We avoided being arrested collecting water samples at City Creek Mall once. That was entertaining,” said Josie Mork, Elaine’s mom. 

For Josie and Joshua Mork, the parents of Elaine, it makes sense that Mork developed a strong love for science. Josie works as an engineer and scientist for Myriad Genetics, while Joshua is a paramedic who works on research and scientific papers in his spare time. 

“She’s always been kinda data-driven you might say,” said Joshua. “That might be a cornerstone of the way she looks at the world.”

Joshua says that when she was younger, Mork wanted an odometer for her bicycle. Following the addition of the odometer to the bike, Mork kept a spreadsheet of data on how far she rode each day, accurate to the tenth of a mile. 

“Analyzing things in a quantifiable fashion is something [Elaine] kind of does as a default,” Joshua said. 

Mork takes after her mom, who has had a huge influence on Mork’s interest in science.

“She’s always been a scientist, and so that’s just been the mom I grew up with. So it just seemed very logical for me to be interested in science because that’s what my mom was doing,” Mork said. “Sometimes she does work from home, and I see her Excel spreadsheets, and they’re very fancy and inspiring.” 

Mork says that it’s also been influential having family in the medical field. Being immersed in the two fields while growing up has made the decision to go into a scientific career even more obvious for her. 

Inspiration to go into a scientific field also came not only from Mork’s parent’s careers, but from their family activities. Mork says that family vacations were very important when it came to sparking her interest in science.

“Most of our vacations are either looking at water or looking at rocks,” said Josie. 

It was looking at water specifically that had the biggest impact on Mork.

“I wanted to be a marine biologist when I first went to see the ocean when I was like seven or something,” Mork said. “And especially a lot of the reading we did before [was impactful], like my parents helped me go to the library and check out books and stuff about tide pools. Then when I got to go and be like ‘Oh my gosh I read about sea stars and look now there’s a sea star in front of me,’ that sort of made the connection and I was like ‘Cool, I want to be a marine biologist now.”

Now, a decade after seeing the ocean for the first time, Mork still wants to study it. She plans to double major in marine biology and Earth sciences next fall on the east coast.

“I feel like Elaine’s career choice has come a long way since she was three and wanted to be a cement truck driver,” says Josie.