EDUCATION TODAY: Carroll senior wins awards for understanding animals’ minds

Carroll High School senior Ryan Ballou prepares slides to count specimens of parasites found in meal worms. Ballou is doing this research in a chemistry lab at the University of Dayton under the mentorship of the university’s Executive Director of Integrated Science and Engineering, Dr. Doug Daniels. Contributed photo/Carroll High School
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Carroll High School senior Ryan Ballou prepares slides to count specimens of parasites found in meal worms. Ballou is doing this research in a chemistry lab at the University of Dayton under the mentorship of the university’s Executive Director of Integrated Science and Engineering, Dr. Doug Daniels. Contributed photo/Carroll High School

Carroll High School senior Ryan Ballou is taking his passion for animals and science from the Darke County Fair to the labs of some of the world’s most talented researchers. Ballou grew up showing rabbits at the fair and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but after participating in the Darke County Science fair in junior high, his vision shifted toward understanding the minds of an animal that so many people take for granted.

“I thought to myself, ‘What’s an animal that no one really thinks much of?’ I came up with chickens and started doing chicken psychology research,” Ballou said. “No one really thinks much of them or thinks they have a lot of psychological abilities, but they’re a really crucial part of our food supply.”

Modeling his project after the results of many studies that show the color red makes humans hungrier, Ballou hatched a plan to build three chicken coops in the family garage and dye the birds’ feed red to find out if the same was true for chickens.

He found that the chickens were gaining weight nearly twice as fast, and his research took flight from there. His work earned him the behavioral science award at the Ohio State Science Day and a trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair as a Carroll freshman in 2018, a moment he remembers as a turning point in his life. One year later, Ballou was back at ISEF presenting his research and earned another award at the top science fair in Ohio in the veterinary science category. He continues to earn prestigious accolades for his work, including being selected as a presenter at the Ohio Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This past fall, Ballou was named a Melvin Scholar by the OAS and inducted as a lifetime fellow at the American Junior Academy of Science.

Through it all, Ballou is quick to recognize the people who have helped him through his journey.

“I went in for a scholarship interview two weeks ago, and one of the judges said, ‘Basically, you’re just a really smart guy?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I’ve had a lot of mentors and people who believed in me and have been willing to help me out as long as I show drive and let my age define my abilities.’ So every time I think about my research, I think about all the opportunities I’ve been given and the amount of people who have shown faith in me and invested in helping me succeed.”

Ballou has gotten a head start in his research career for after Carroll graduation this May. He’s already spent time in the labs at the University of Dayton, his college of choice, working under the guidance of the university’s Executive Director of Integrated Science and Engineering, Dr. Doug Daniels. He hopes to eventually lead his own research team to develop a universal flu vaccine based on his research that began when he was just a seventh grade student.