105 posts categorized "Alumni Updates"


Betsy Arnold, Former Finalist, Now Volunteers as a Judge at Intel ISEF

Betsy Arnold is a former International Science and Engineering Fair finalist, who served as a judge in the plant sciences category at this year’s Intel ISEF. In her day job, she is an Associate Professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona where she conducts research, teaches, and mentors students (including high school students.) 


ISEF was a life-changing experience for me when I was in high school, and it is such a pleasure to be involved with the current cohort of exceptional young scientists. 


I grew up in central Phoenix and had two fantastic science teachers during middle school and high school. The latter, Don Galen, inspired me to start my own research projects, and under his guidance I not only was able to work at Arizona State University as a high school student, but I was able to develop a research project that provided the support that make my undergraduate choice -- Duke -- a reality.

My family was always supportive and valued education, for which I am very fortunate -- but I had no idea that science could be a career (as well as a lifestyle!), as no one in my family had gone in that direction before. Mr. Galen's support made an enormous difference in my career choice, and my experiences at ISEF were critical in helping me learn to communicate, to recognize what I didn't know, and in inspiring me to think about becoming a professional in biology.

Thanks in large part to that research experience, I was able to start working in research labs as a freshman at Duke. I was a Howard Hughes research student during the summer after my freshman year, and I ended up completing a senior honors thesis on that project (effects of flower color polymorphism on pollination dynamics). I remember presenting in undergraduate poster sessions and reflecting on how much science fairs and ISEF had helped me be prepared to do so.

When I graduated from Duke, I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school. I wasn't sure exactly what aspect of biology I wanted to study, though, other than the general topic of plants and their interactions with other organisms. Most fortunately, I heard about a fantastic opportunity: a one-year research assistantship in Panama, at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). In addition to providing me with my first exposure to tropical biodiversity, STRI gave me the opportunity to work in a world-class research setting within a tropical forest. It was incredible. My work focused on evaluating patterns of herbivory and pathogen damage on tropical trees, as a means to understand leaf defenses.

At the end of my year in Panama, I started my PhD work at the University of Arizona. I was very fortunate to receive fellowship support from the National Science Foundation for my graduate work, and my interests -- on fungal symbionts of plants -- coalesced into a series of studies that paved the way for my current activities.

I completed my doctorate in 2002, and then returned to Duke as a postdoctoral fellow through the National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Microbial Biology. In 2005, I joined the faculty at the University of Arizona, and I am now an associate professor. My work focuses on fungal evolution and ecology, with spin-offs into sustainable agriculture and pharmaceutical drug discovery. One highlight of my current position is that I have the chance to support students at both the high school and undergraduate levels (in addition to my graduate students and postdocs), and that has been absolutely fulfilling. I typically have 3-4 high school students a year in my lab, and they have done great at regional science fairs. To our great delight, one has gone on to compete at Intel ISEF. He is now a first-generation college student at University of Arizona.

I also work closely with a local high school teacher, and have had the chance to support her for two research stints in Panama. We also have worked with approximately 200 of her students for 'microbial discovery' workshops in which the students are doing front-line research on plant-fungal associations.

All of this is to say that I can trace many good things back to Mr. Galen and my earliest days in science. His support and encouragement, coupled with the incredible gift given to me by my middle-school teacher (who gave the 'Future Scientist' award when I was in 8th grade!), were instrumental in my development.


Intel ISEF 2006 Alum Now Founder of Social Networking Site

Alex Capecelatro won a 3rd Award in Materials and Bioengineering at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in 2006. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering, Alex went on to found At the Pool, a social networking site.


Alex Capecelatro currentWhat was your experience being an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalist like? 
Being a finalist was a pretty amazing experience. I met a ton of really smart, highly engaged students working on world-changing ideas ranging from mathematics to biology to robotics.  I had never heard of Intel ISEF going into my senior year of high school and then nine months later, I was there presenting my work. It was a humbling experience.


Can you provide a short description of your research project? 
My project was titled "Nanoengineering Aerogel for Insulin Insulation" and I was awarded a special award from the United States Army and a 3rd Award in the Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering category. I was working with aerogels to create super-insulating capsules for passive refrigeration of insulin (a problem that was making headlines back in 20Alex Capecelatro at project05 and 2006 as diabetics without electricity were left with few options).  In order to solve this problem, I constructed a home-built supercritical extractor and helped formulate a new series of polymer-crosslinked aerogels.  As a type-1 diabetic, I was accustomed to traveling with insulin and the issues that arise when it warms up, so I set out to make a product that would better my life as well as others living with diabetes.


How did participating in events like Intel ISEF affect your career trajectory? 
I learned a number of things by participating in Intel ISEF. First, I learned how to present a complicated set of scientific achievements and translate them to layman's terms. If your work remains esoteric and complicated, it's hard to ever make an impact. So I was set on simplifying the problem and creating a compelling story that justified my work and got people to emotionally connect.  Second, I learned the power of reaching out to experts in the field to help as mentors and advisors, to aid in my scientific exploration, and to help provide resources for my work. This included welders and pipe-fitters, graduate students at MIT and UCLA, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Glenn Research Center, as well as local chemistry teachers. ThirdAlex Capecelatro project item only, this experience gave me a greater appreciation for engineering and the sciences and the impact you can make by getting out and building something.


What are you up to now? 
I graduated with a degree in Materials Science & Engineering from UCLA, have published a handful of papers and contributed to a number of patents in the chemical / nanotech fields, and have worked with researchers at Harvard, Sandia National Lab, the Naval Research Lab, and UCLA.


Two years ago I left my job at Fisker Automotive to start my own company in the software space. We launched a product called At The Pool which aims to connect people offline and build better communities.  We've been called the "anti-Facebook," have grown to include members in more than 98 countries, and focus intently on making people's lives better through facilitating offline events and activities. We've been fortunate to raise capital from a bevy of sophisticated investors and we're launching a new mobile product at the end of summer.

 Alex Capecelatro action shot

Do you have any advice for young students interested in science? 
I highly encourage young students to explore opportunities in the science and engineering fields. The opportunity to build and create world-changing innovations while working amongst some of the brightest minds is truly a privilege. It is important to get good grades and work hard, but ultimately it's the side projects that are most rewarding. If you have an idea to cure a disease or invent a new device, nothing is stopping you from carrying through with it. It's amazing how many people will support and help if you just ask. When you realize anything is possible the journey becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun!


From the Arts, to Science

Elson Galang, currently a college student at the University of the Philippines- Los Banos majoring in Agricultural Chemistry, was an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012 finalist. He recently founded the Network of ISEF Alumni-Philippines and serves as the network’s acting Editor in Chief.


Elson Galang at projectWhat was your experience being an Intel ISEF finalist like?
In high school, I never really saw myself working in the sciences. Instead, I was an active student publication writer, public speaker, fashion lover, and a self-proclaimed artist. However, I have always been amazed by my schoolmates who won various national and international science competitions. I thought that science was natural for them, and it was just not for me.


In my junior year at Philippine Science High School, we were told to start a science research project that would fulfil one of the requirements to graduate from high school. I may do well in the arts, but I doubted if I can do the same for science. But I took the risk and got to attend Intel ISEF in return! Being an arts-inclined person, I had difficulty choosing a topic for my project. But then, as some old saying says, “If you can't cut the two, fold it.” I tried exploring some branches of science until I found textile science- a field where I can combine both the art of fashion and technicality of science. From then on, I was motivated and maybe one day I can see my project on the runways of Paris, New York or Milan.


Elson Galang holding Philippines signMy project focused on the production and characterization of a new eco-fabric from a blend of cotton fibers and fragrant screw pine leaf fibers. This was inspired by the efforts of our country's textile research institute to decrease cotton imports by integrating some percentage of Philippine fibers into cotton fabrics. My results showed that blending the two fibers creates an economically efficient eco-fabric. Additional options could help decrease imports and provide a viable alternative to blending polyester, an environmentally threatening material, with cotton.


How did you think participating in events like Intel ISEF will affect your career trajectory?
My Intel ISEF experience was turning point in my life. It was from there that I became a fulltime advocate for and lover of science. I felt encouraged by the support Intel and SSP provided to all science enthusiasts in the world. Other than the fun, hotel accommodations, memorable tours, meeting Nobel Prize winners, and the chance to be in the United States of America, it was the exchange of stories and ideas from all other young scientists of every corner of the globe that made me believe science can actually change the world. 


Now in addition to writing for school publications about current news and school activities, I also write science news and feature articles. I speak about not only human rights, but highlight the achievements of young Filipino scientists. Instead of loving fashion just for the aesthetics, I now prioritize the efficiency of the materials used. I found the science inside me, and I am more than happy that it works well with my arts interests and background.     


Elson Galang with 2013 finalistsYou have recently begun an alumni network for Intel ISEF alumni from the Philippines. Can you tell us about that network?
Intel ISEF was not the end, but just a beginning of a bigger mission. I found the science within me and I felt it was time to help others find it.


We recently begun the Network of ISEF Alumni- Philippines, composed of all the country's Intel ISEF finalists since the Philippines started participating. I observed how other Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan have long-established alumni chapters. Upon returning from Intel ISEF 2012, I immediately talked to some previous Intel ISEF alumni and our mentors about the idea. Just like the giant poster at the David Lawrence Convention Center [in Pittsburgh, PA] said, “Now on to change the world.”


After being privileged to be part of Intel ISEF, it was time for us to spread the challenge. We have started formulating plans and activities, including free trainings for all high school students in the country who want to be in the field of science research, and free mentorship for all future Intel ISEF teams from the Philippines. Many of our alumni are already professionals in their respective fields. Some are working in physics, medicine, mathematics, chemistry and other scientific fields. They can easily help maximize the potential of all our high school students and our Intel ISEF Philippine Team members by sharing their expertise.


We are also eyeing the implementation of Intel ISEF projects in various communities where they apply. I firmly believe that these projects deserve to be removed from library stacks and be in use for the common good. A project from Jaro, Ilo-ilo that won a Fourth Place award at Intel ISEF 2012 developed a technique for growing corals on bamboo. A project from Panabo City that won another Fourth Place award at Intel ISEF 2013 discovered antifungal properties of a certain plant against Fusarium wilt of bananas. These are just some of the projects that if only shared and implemented, can surely improve lives in our communities. Finally, we are working to release a journal this year featuring all projects from our country's Intel ISEF finalists and all local science fair champions, recognizing their achievements and contributions to science.


Do you have any advice for other young students interested in science?
You don’t have to be a science geek to be interested in science. Whether you are an artist or athlete, a love for science is surely still embedded in you, and it is up for you to find it. Make sure you help others find it too!


Intel ISEF Finalist Twila Moon Now PhD Candidate Studying Glacier Velocity on Ice Sheets

Twila Moon was an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) finalist in 1996, 1998, and 1999. Now a PhD candidate in the Earth and Space Sciences department at the University of Washington, she studies the velocities of outlet glaciers on the Greenland Ice Sheet.


How did you get involved in science and science fairs like the Intel ISEF?
I was always interested in and liked science growing up. I competed in my first science fair somewhere around the 5th grade, where I grew crystals for my project. I actually skipped the 7th grade, but the science teacher wouldn’t let me skip that particular class, so I ended up taking two science classes that year- which I thought was great! In high school, I began to do particularly well in science fairs and had the opportunity to compete at Intel ISEF multiple times.


What was your experience being an International Science and Engineering Fair finalist like?
I had the opportunity to travel and compete at Intel ISEF in Tucson, Philadelphia, and Fort Worth. Intel ISEF is an amazing experience. You get to be around a bunch of other students who also really like science. You could tell science jokes and sit up late and talk about cool new ideas. It’s inspiring seeing what other projects are there, but it’s also a fun time to get together with people interested in the same things as you, and to sit around thinking about intellectual ideas. It was great that science enabled me to travel. Not only did I get to travel to the locations of Intel ISEF, but also one year I won the opportunity to attend the South American international science fair held in Brazil.


Competing in science fairs was fun during the preparation, too. I learned new things and met lots of different people in the community. I made connections at Colorado College and the University of Colorado and was able to work with teachers outside of my high school. It’s really a win/win. Science fairs give you the chance to do cool new projects, and then being successful at them leads you on to even more fun opportunities. 


One year I qualified for Intel ISEF as part of a team project. I had previous experience in computer models and my partner had done wetlands research. We combined what we knew to do a project modeling wetland plants and predicting what the plant community would be like in the future. The team project was more like how science works in the real world; we were coming from different fields and putting our knowledge together. It’s rare as a scientist for someone to be doing research alone. It’s all about finding people who do things that are outside of your own expertise and creating a new project in which the sum is greater than its parTwila Greenland 1ts.


How did participating in events like Intel ISEF affect your career trajectory?
In high school, I was interested in computer science and math. While I ended up going into earth sciences, having experience and background knowledge in those technical fields, especially as a female, even if it isn’t the main thing I do, is very important. It’s easy as a graduate student and even later in your career to lose confidence in yourself, because you are always around smart people doing remarkable work. Having early successes in competitions like Intel ISEF and knowing that you can apply and master many kinds of science and math knowledge and skills is a good reminder that you do belong in the scientific community. 


It was also a great opportunity to meet other people that are excited about science and learn about all the ways that you can use science. Plus, I won money for college. I realized that I could be really successful in this field, and meeting so many other amazing scientists I didn’t feel like a nerd. I found out you don’t have to fit a stereotype; you can be a fun, successful scientist no matter the type of person you are.


What are you up to now?
I’m currently finishing up my PhD. I study the Greenland Ice Sheet, mostly using satellite data, although I had a chance to do some field work this summer. Think of an ice sheet like a big lake of ice- lakes have outlet streams but ice sheets have outle t glaciers. Those glaciers move ice from the interior of the ice sheet out into the ocean, where it melts and affects sea level rise. I study the velocities of outlet glaciers, how the ice sheet interacts with the ocean, and the connection between the ice sheet and the climate system.

 Twila Greenland 2

Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
It’s very important to find a project you are excited about. There are interesting questions to be asked and answered in any field of science you can imagine, and you need to find one that’s really intriguing for you. Some parts of doing research aren’t as fun; for example, processing data or observing in the field for hours with lots of mosquitoes, but if you’re passionate about what you are doing, you can still see the contribution of the boring parts to what you are going to learn in answering the big, exciting questions. Passion makes you willing to do things other people aren’t so you can find the answer.  Finding out new things is an exciting part of being a scientist!


Find other people who believe in your skills and can encourage you. Find friends that are excited by science too. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. You can’t ask someone to do your project for you, but if you are genuinely interested in the topic and there is someone in your community who could help you out or provide mentorship, don’t be shy about asking.


Most importantly, have fun! Think about what you can learn from the experience and how you can use it to take the next step in your research. Even if you don’t become a scientist, the critical thinking and ability to think objectively are skills you will use later. Take advantage of opportunities like science fair while you can. Also, being a scientist is really fun and can lead to great adventures. You can do many amazing things with it throughout your life; so if you like science, stick with it.


Ride Along with Algae Girl through CalTech and JPL

Evie Sobczak from St. Petersburg, Florida was the Best of Category winner in Energy and Transportation at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2013 for her project on turning algae into oil. Along with a cash award, Evie won a trip to visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).


Innovation Award - DSC_2344From the second I arrived until my plane took off, I was on a scientific thrill ride with informational twists and turns through CalTech and JPL. On day one, we managed to see everything from a Paleomagnetics Lab to an Ion Probe Lab with Mitch Aiken, the Associate Director for Educational Outreach, leading the way.


We started out with a quick campus tour where we learned the history of CalTech, including the infamous CalTech - MIT cannon saga. We next encountered a double-dip into the world of sustainability. Both the Resnick Institute for Sustainability and the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis focus on developing new methods to generate power and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, a theme prevalent in my research. The equipment in these labs makes my garage workshop look even more pathetic. The fact that they test over a million samples a day was unimaginable.


The next helix loop is one I will never forget: a tour of the Baltimore Biology Lab by the Nobel Laureate himself, Dr. David Baltimore. I was stunned that one of the greatest biologists wanted to spend time with three teenage wannabe scientists. After a tour through his lab, he took us to lunch where he shared his Noble Prize story with us. A definite “aha” moment for me. After a swoop through a couple of tectonic and glacial labs, we arrived at the most interactive lab: the Kavli Nanoscience Institute Clean Room. After suiting up and being blasted with air, we were lint free and ready for admission. Through the double doors, there were a dozen scientists programming machines to etch microscopic circuits onto cracker size wafers. The atmosphere was as intense as it was sterile. But after zooming through the campus all day, I was thrilled that it was dinner time and even more excited to meet our dinner companion, Erika DeBenedictis, the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search winner! It was fascinating to hear about her life after winning Intel STS and all she has accomplished.


On day two we were catapulted up the mountain to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The G force barely kept me in my seat as excitement spewed out of me. We were escorted to Dr. Charles Elachi’s office, the JPL Director. I would have thought it was a dream if I hadn’t snapped a quick picture with him. We then headed to the Visitor Center Museum & Spacecraft Models. Luckily we had Mr. David Seidel, Deputy Education Director aka spacecraft virtuoso, as our tour director.


We quickly ascended to the Mars Yard, a replica of the fourth plant from the sun, except with some furry aliens. You couldn’t even imagine my excitement when I saw Bambi and his mother. That’s right, free roaming deer! A sight not common on the beaches of Florida. Another uncommon sight was Curiosity’s identical twin, the testing rover. It was hard to believe that every task completed on Mars is first tested here in California, an average of 140 million miles away. After a briefing on all that Curiosity has to offer, we began our descent to the Earth Science Center where we met Douglas Ellison, the creator of a website that provides the location of every satellite on every planet. Doug is quite popular at the JPL as his height is used as their universal measurement, i.e. “one satellite is 70 Dougs tall.” 


Our third day went by at supersonic speed. We first met up with Tara Estlin, one of the drivers of the Mars Rover Opportunity. She took us to the MER Sequencing Team daily briefing. Too bad I can’t tell you what I learned, top secret! But what I can tell you is that I was getting very anxious as our ride was suddenly inverted and it was our turn to present our projects, and mine was no space rover or nano device. The auditorium stage was big, the audience’s IQ was even bigger, but they treated us like science superstars listening attentively and encouraging us to continue our research. After a quick delicious bite, we were off to the Space Flight Operations Facility where we saw a familiar face: Adam Steltzner, the opening ceremony speaker at Intel ISEF 2013. After a quick selfie with him, we were whisked away to see the Cassini Mission Operations where we learned about Saturn and its moons. Our last lab was the Nano Device Technology Lab. I have never met anyone more passionate about his work than Dr. Farouhar. The future of nanotechnology looks tremendous with him at the helm. But sadly, the most exhilarating ride of my life was over.


My time at CalTech and JPL was immensely educational and inspiring. My sincerest gratitude to Barbara Carman, David Baltimore, Mitch Aiken, David Seidel, Larry Bergman, and all the scientists, engineers, and staff at CalTech and JPL who shared their passion with us. They made me realized that it isn’t just the discoveries that are important, but it’s the passion they bring to their research. I also would like to thank Intel, Intel ISEF, and the Society for Science and the Public for providing me this invaluable opportunity. You truly have informed, educated and inspired me!


P.S. If you were wondering about the lodging and food, it was amazing! We got to stay at The Atheneum, a private club located on the CalTech campus that houses visiting scientists. It is where Albert Einstein lived when he worked at the university. Filled with scientific journals and paintings of famous scientists, you feel motivated just walking through the halls. The food is just as enticing as the surroundings. The whole wheat blackberry pancakes were scrumptious, the sushi buffet was delectable, and the banana foster and a chocolate fountain were a dream come true. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of science fair season than visiting this educational institution where research surrounds you. Work hard my friends, for it pays off.


Maya Patel's Flammability Index Helped Her Reach the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS Finals

Maya Patel from The Woodlands, Texas won a 2nd place award in Mathematics at the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS. Below she describes her experience during the Broadcom MASTERS finals in Washington, DC last fall and at the Iron Man 3 event held this spring. Broadcom MASTERS, a program of Society for Science & the Public, is the national science, technology, engineering, and math competition for U.S. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.


What was your experience being a Broadcom MASTERS finalist like?
Being a part of the Broadcom MASTERS was a once in a lifetime experience. The whole environment was extremely fun and exciting, but also very intellectualPatel, maya at Public Day at the same time, and the people were AWESOME! We were a large group of geeks who got each other. I was able to be myself and make extremely scientific comments and they would understand me! I loved every second of hanging out with the 29 other finalists. Also, the STEM challenges they gave us throughout the week were incredibly interesting and engaging. I wish I could learn science like that in the classroom every day. By the end of the week, I had formed lifelong friends that I am still in touch with today! Some of my favorite activities were the team building, programming on the Raspberry Pi, the Maryland Science Center, and the bonding time with other finalists.


Can you provide a short description of the research you presented?
My project was “Gauging Inferno Sprawl.” Coming from Texas, where fires threaten our state in the drier months and millions of acres are destroyed on a yearly basis, I decided to create a way to predict the spread of a wildfire using Geographical Information Systems (GIS). I had to create an algorithm that used factors affecting flammability, which turned out a flammability index for each cell on the map. These numbers werYellow teame then manipulated with focal statistics and Boolean logic to model the spread of a wildfire. After much work, my model had an 80% accuracy rate. This model could potentially aid firefighters in evacuation planning and also help them determine how to fight fires more efficiently, saving lives and reducing the amount of land and homes destroyed.


How did you initially become interested in science and this topic specifically?
Science has always sparked an interest in me. I would read books about science and do little experiments at home. Also every science teacher I have ever had has helped me get to this stage in some way, whether they presented a cool experiment to me or helped me go to science fair. This particular topic started when I was at summer camp. There was a wildfire very close to the camp and we could see and smell the smoke. The firefighters had told everyone to always have a bag packed in case we had to evacuate. I thought- what if we could predict where a wildfire was going to spread? That would solve many problems. So, I researched the idea and came to the conclusion that GIS could help me do this.


Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
When trying to come up with a science fair topic, pick something you STEM winnerspersonally are very interested in and something that affects your life. Yes, curing cancer may be the big thing out there, but you should pick something you really like to do. You are after all the one spending hours upon hours completing the project, so do something that won’t be torture. Also for students applying for Broadcom MASTERS, yes, it can be a tedious process, but it is well worth it in the end. Take the time to really not just tell the technical and scientific aspects of your project, but also the journey you went on. A large part of science fair isn’t the actual science, but what you learned from the whole journey of meeting new people and presenting your project.


This spring, you had the opportunity to attend Marvel’s Iron Man 3 Inventor and Innovator Fair. Can you tell us about that event?
The Iron Man 3: Inventor and Innovator Fair was lots and lots of fun too. I had the opportunity to reunite with three other Broadcom MASTERS finalists. We took a tour of Broadcom Corporation and the Discovery Science Center, which are both very cool places. We also got a special tour of Disney Imagineering, a once in a lifetime opportunity! The other 11 finalists were so cool and intelligent too. The atmosphere was very similar to the one at Broadcom MASTERS. I really enjoyed spending a week with these very intelligent people. At the conclusion of the week was the awards ceremony and at the very end Robert Downey, Jr. came and surprised us and said he was humbled by our work! That was very, very cool, and I speak for the girls there when I say that we all died a little inside when he was announced. I could not believe it! Meeting him was the perfect end to a very exciting week.


What are your future plans related to STEM?
I plan to have a STEM career in the future. I am not completely sure what exactly I want to do. I am strongly considering something in the genetics field and a medical degree may be in my future. I am continuing to do science fairs, but I am starting some new research this year mixing nanotechnology and many aspects of biology.


Robert Lynch Shares Memories of the 1942 Science Talent Search

Robert Lynch was a finalist in the original Science Talent Search held in 1942. Due to his participation in STS, Robert won a scholarship to a local college and went on to become a clinical biochemist at the Medical College of Virginia.


Robert Lynch currentWhat was your experience being a Science Talent Search finalist like?
I had a ball at the Science Talent Search. When we showed up in Washington, DC, everyone was really excited. This was in July, and it was really hot. I remember going to the Smithsonian, and the sweat was just rolling off of us, but we still enjoyed every minute. We rode the streetcar to get around town, and had a chance to use the swimming pool at the YMCA. A man from the Red Cross came and taught us how to stay afloat even if we didn’t know how to swim, and then we all jumped in. We took tests and waited in the hallways of the hotel for our turn to be interviewed by the judges. We got to meet Vice President Wallace and have our picture taken. My Congressman’s secretary also invited me to lunch and I got the lobster! It was my first time in Washington, DC. I was living in West Virginia and actually had never been to the East Coast before that.


How did you initially become interested in science?
I’ve been interested in science my entire life. My mother was a nurse; she retired when she had kids, but she always had science books laying around that I was interested in. In the 7th grade, I used to pass the City Library every day on my way home and I would stop in and read the Science News Letter (now known as Science News) and other magazines. I also got a chemistry kit as a teenager, and one of my friends and I spent a great deal of time with that. In high school, one teacher drove a group of us 35 miles to see Saturn's rings through a telescope; he also milked a rattlesnake in class to get the venom. We were allowed to work in the chemistry/physics lab after school.


How did you end up entering the STS?
My chemistry teacher in high school gave us the exam for the Science Talent Search. He asked three of us to take it and the other two boys decided not to write the required essay, but I didn’t want to disappoint my teacher so I went ahead and finished it. I promptly forgot about entering until I found out that I had won. 

 1942 Capitol Photo

How did participating in events like the STS affect your career trajectory?
Participating in the STS helped me get a scholarship offer to a local college, West Virginia Wesleyan College, about 15 miles from where I was living. Tuition at the time was $150 and the scholarship covered half the tuition. My chemistry teacher got me a job to help me pay the rest of the tuition for my first year. After the first year I went to the Army and finished my schooling after I came back. Attending STS and getting the scholarship got me into college and through my first year, and I think it also made a difference when I was applying for jobs and fellowships later on.


Are there career highlights you want to share?
After a year and a half of graduate school, I quit. My research project was uninteresting and I could not communicate well with my major professor. I started working at the Medical College of Virginia on cancer research. They had recently received a grant to explore a new cancer detection test; and I spent a year on that and some other work at the Cancer Center. At the end of year, it was obvious the test did not work and I was ready to move on. The same people running the lab I worked in at the Cancer Center also ran the clinical lab and they were looking for someone with a chemistry background to run the chemistry lab. After working a while, I enrolled as a graduate student and earned a MS in Biochemistry while working full time. This was about the time that clinical chemistry split from biochemistry. It’s important to do something that you really enjoy and is a challenge, and I found that in the clinical chemistry lab.


Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
Science is a good field to go into, and there are all kinds of topics in it. Find s1942 Finalists with Vice President Wallaceomething that you are really interested in. There are so many different varieties of things within science that you can certainly find something that excites you. It’s important to not only learn how to communicate with people, but to do it. Be helpful to other people. It is very rewarding to be told years later how much that meant to them. You should learn statistics, because it can be easy to fool yourself with results you get if you don’t know how to analyze them. Don’t be suspicious, but be aware that other people can sometimes be mistaken when they want to believe something about their results. Be honest; this is particularly important in the medical field where a mistake could cost lives. Take that responsibility seriously- if you make a mistake own up to it and correct it. Most importantly, find a job in an area that you can be enthusiastic about.


Final thoughts?
Science is change. It is changing and has changed so much that it’s hard to predict where it’s going. The main thing to remember is if opportunity knocks, answer it. There may be the chance to do something different and unique. It can be difficult to go into a new field or new research, but change can really be worth the effort. One last thought: Curiosity is wonderful, but don't stick your finger in a monkey's cage. I did, at age 9, and got bitten. One of my colleagues, who has a PhD in math, stuck his finger in a baboon's cage and nearly lost it!


"Rising Star" Makes Friends, Memories, and Learns about STEM

Cassie Drury from Louisville, Kentucky won one of two Rising Star awards at the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS, a national competition for 6th-8th grade students. This award included participation in Broadcom MASTERS International, a companion program that provides a unique opportunity to attend the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for select middle school students from around the world.


Drury,cassie & golden,paulaMy experiences as a Broadcom MASTERS finalist were incredible! I learned so much and made some of the best memories of my life. I often feel like it was just last week because of the ease with which I am able to recall many memories. My favorite challenges were the Rube Goldberg machine and Build a Better Building. [Finalists in the Broadcom MASTERS travel to Washington, DC and compete in team hands-on challenges.]


In the Rube Goldberg machine challenge, we learned about energy transfer and had to create a system with at least seven energy transfers that moved a toy car onto a target. My team had so much fun building our mechanism and it even worked on the first try! My other favorite was the Build a Better Building challenge. In this challenge, we had to construct a building out of household materials that we bought on a budget from the “store” that was provided.  After purchasing our materials, we got to work constructing our building. However, this building needed to be built to sustain a hurricane. So, after we concluded our construction we went out and put our building to the test with a leaf blower. It was able to sustain the wind with minimal damage. These are just two examples of the many fun challenges during Broadcom MASTERS. I made so many fantastic memories in Washington D.C!


Drury,cassie-black teamThe research that qualified me for Broadcom MASTERS was focused on the activation of stem cells during wound healing. I was trying to find out if a diffusible factor, like a protein, gets released when cells are injured. I modeled my research with planarian worms capable of regeneration. I found a ton of interesting things, but the most interesting was that there was a factor released that sped up wound healing. What I mean by that is injured planarians released this factor and when a planarian was put in a position to receive this factor, it regenerated much faster than usual. This was an amazing result that I am still in awe of to this day.


I became interested in this topic in sixth grade. There were many things that influenced my choice of research in this field. One of which was my very inspirational teacher, Mr. Fred Whittaker, who began teaching biology. I was immediately captivated by the awe and artwork of cells. I also had a friend working in the planarian line of research that introduced me to the worms. I have always been curious about the working of medicine. So in my first year, I looked at aspirin’s effect on wound healing in planarian. At the end of the project, there were several unanswered questions. I decided to take the most intriguing and study it more closely.


DSC_9883Attending Intel ISEF [as part of the Broadcom MASTERS International program] was a truly spectacular experience! I have never been in such a multicultural environment before. I met so many amazing people from all over the world. It was an incredible experience that I am so grateful I was able to have.


I have been greatly influenced by my experiences in independent research and in the Broadcom MASTERS competition.  I have developed my problem solving skills and have learned to try and think critically in all situations. I think these experiences have made me more independent and excited to try new things. I now know there is no reason not to try something, because anything is possible and you never know where things could take you. Broadcom MASTERS has opened my eyes to the possibilities of everything I can achieve. I have also learned about how necessary STEM principles are in our everyday life and the importance of engineering in all aspects of science.


My advice to other students is to stay interested and curious in science because it is changing constantly. If you are curious, you never know where/what your curiosity might lead you to. Science is a field where there is always something new to uncover. And never underestimate what you can accomplish.


For finalists in the 2013 Broadcom MASTERS competition, my advice is that it is an unbelievable experience, so keep your mind open at all times and enjoy it. Make memories and hold on to them, because you will always want look back on them. Make friends, because you may never be in a place where there are 29 other like-minded people just waiting to make connections with you."


Value of Being a Intel STS Finalist Continues After High School

Alice Zhao was the Glenn T. Seaborg Award winner at the Intel Science Talent Search 2010 and also competed in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The Seaborg Award is voted on by the Intel STS finalists, and the winner represents the class by speaking at the awards gala. Alice is currently a sophomore attending Harvard, has an internship with Epic Systems, and recently had the opportunity to participate in a tribute to Sally Ride.


Zhao,Alice_011Originally from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I was an Intel STS finalist and won a 2nd Award in mechanical engineering at the Intel ISEF in 2010. My project was titled “A Novel Heating Method in the Dynamic Spraying of Nanoparticles.” Essentially, I heated up air to a high temperature and a high pressure that eventually carried nanoparticles. The purpose of this is to spray these nanoparticles to coat industrial parts.


Many people ask me, as a high school student, why I would decide to do research in engineering rather than biology or physics (topics that students become exposed to in their high school curriculum). I became interested in science at an early age, and engineering more specifically, because of my parents. I thought doing engineering research would be a really good start to getting more involved with science beyond just my high school classes.


If you ask any Intel STS or Intel ISEF finalist, they’ll almost always say that the people are the best part of the experience. It’s amazing that after just one week of meeting the 39 other Intel STS finalists, I call some of them my best friends. We have reunions over Harvard-Yale weekend. I went to China after my senior year with a bunch of the finalists and casually hang out and work on weekly problem sets with the others at school. During the competition, most finalists did not realize that the Intel STS “brand” continues with them after they graduate high school. The fact that you can say you were among the top 40 high school researchers in the nation carries dramatic weight for future possibilities in lab interviews, internships, and nationwide opportunities in general. I didn’t realize that Intel STS and my involvement extended well beyond the week of competition.


During that amazing week filled with delicious food, tons of fun, and incredibly hard interview questions, I was chosen to be the Glenn T. Seaborg Award Winner. During the awards gala, I spoke on behalf of the finalists aboutZhao,Alice_105 scientific opportunity, inquiry, and absolute appreciation for its beauty. Later I found out from Dudley Herschbach [Nobel Laureate and former SSP Board of Trustees Chair] that I would be returning to Washington, DC in late April to represent innovation in science as a Legacy Prize winner for the Creativity Foundation. Unknowingly by winning the Seaborg award, I was able to meet past and future award winners as well, since I was asked to present the Legacy Prize to the Seaborg award recipients for the past two years. Connection among Intel STS classes is generally rare unless other finalists attend the same college or participate in similar programs. Nonetheless, there’s an instant bond between other finalists regardless of year.  


This past year, I also returned to Washington, DC a second time. SSP and Intel contacted me about speaking at Sally Ride’s National Tribute on scientific achievement, particularly from a female perspective. At the time, it seemed random to pick me to speak at this event since I didn’t know much about Sally Ride and wasn’t very familiar with space exploration. At the tribute, however, I realized that it was not only a tribute to Sally Ride and her accomplishments but also a celebration of other “firsts” as women. I was told before the event that my speech should offer the perspective of high school and college women in science. As the first female winner of the Seaborg award, I realized that being a “first” was less impressive than what came as a result of it. Through the Creativity Foundation, I met the two most recent Seaborg winners and spoke about my experiences there in my speech for Sally Ride. It read:


Including myself, 3 out of the last 4 Seaborg winners were female. Just this little fact, I believe, is an indication of Sally Ride’s lasting significance on science education and is inspiring of what is yet to come.


Even though it took so long to have a female Seaborg winner, it is energizing to know that, immediately after, the supposed “glass ceiling” completely shattered.


Currently I’m writing this post at my desk in Madison, Wisconsin during my summer internship at Epic Systems as a software development intern. It’s nice to be back in my home state after being away for school. Interning in Madison is the perfect balance of being near home if I need anything, yet not living with my parents the entire summer. I chose to accept the Epic offer (the use of the word “epic” will likely be ruined for me after this summer) not because I’m a coding genius but because when I was being treated for Hodgkin’s, the doctors and nurses used Epic software. It seemed like an excellent way to give back and have the greatest possible impact I could on the healthcare industry given the fact that my background is not in healthcare, biology or chemistry. As a result, my project focuses more on user interface and analytical components.


Overall, I think participating in Intel STS and being a Seaborg winner has taught me to pursue things that I enjoy, regardless of obstacles. Back in high school, my academic interests were in mechanical engineering, yet I really enjoyed public speaking. In college, I translated that experience to speaking at even larger venues and trying to meet as many people as I possibly can. Even though my academic pursuit changed to statistics, I still apply that innate scientific inquiry.


Here’s some advice to students interested in participating in some of SSP’s programs: I say go for it. It sounds cheesy but doing what you love is the best advice I can give to those who are thinking about applying for Intel STS and those who are just interested in science in general. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. I was always interested in science but being chosen as an Intel STS finalist and a Seaborg winner really was the start of all the other cool opportunities that I have been able to experience since then. So…. decide to do what you love even earlier!


Naomi Shah, Intel STS and Intel ISEF Finalist, Encourages Girls in STEM

Naomi Shah, Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) 2013 finalist, and most recently, Best of Category Winner in Environmental Science at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2013, recently had the opportunity to attend the ITU Tech Needs Girls conference in Brussels, Belgium.


Naomi Shah in STS jacket in BrusselsNever would I have guessed that I would have the opportunity to present my research and my initiative to increase the number of girls participating in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to the European Parliament. With Intel’s generous sponsorship, this trip turned out to be not only a fun adventure in the incredibly diverse and cultured country of Belgium but also an amazing learning opportunity, where I met international leaders and business representatives from many countries and heard how others are working toward similar goals of getting more girls involved in technology fields.


On the first day, we were so tired that we ended up dumping our bags in the hotel and crashing in an effort to sleep off the ever‐present jetlag. However, after futile attempts to fall asleep in broad daylight, we decided to explore the beautiful city of Brussels (and of course, to grab a bite to eat). We stayed near Luxembourg Square and had a nice traditional Belgian lunch. We had dinner with a group of international leaders in both politics and education and were able to delve into some of the most pressing issues facing girls in STEM fields in their respective countries. Later that night, we went out for Belgian waffles, of course!


The next morning, I attended the Technology symposium hosted by the European Union and learned to mix and create audio like a DJ. I had never done anything similar before, so it was a great experience and I was able to learn alongside the local Belgian students who were also attending the symposium.


We were bussed over to thNaomi Shah learning to DJe European Parliament building and I changed quickly into more professional clothes, so that I was more presentable to international politicians and representatives. As we entered the room that Parliament gathered in, I realized how many countries were represented, because when I glanced around, it seemed that everyone was conversing in a different language. I enjoyed sharing what I had done and what I plan to do in the future to increase the number of girls in STEM fields. People were so interested in the FACT (Females Advancing Computing and  Technology) camp that I started at Sunset High School for middle school girls, that it made me realize its’ true promise as a program that could even be rolled out nationally.


After the conference, we celebrated an amazing day of presentations, photos, networking, and “girls-in-tech” love with more traditional Belgian food! We were also able to drive to another city called Brugges the next day for some more authentic Belgian sight-seeing. We bought chocolate from Dumont’s and enjoyed roaming the small, cobblestone streets of the cute city! On the last day, my mom and I were able to get some sight-seeing in before we had to leave, so we visited the Atomium (science nerds!), which is a national monument in Brussels and loved taking pictures in the rain, being true Oregonians. We also visited the Mannekin Pis, whichNaomi Shah speaking at conference is another national symbol for Belgians.


Of course, I was repping my Intel STS jacket throughout the whole trip! In all seriousness though, I am so grateful to Intel for providing me with the opportunity to spread my views on girls in tech with powerful people at the European Parliament and to learn from these leaders, educators, and politicians on what they think the future holds for girls entering tech fields.



What was your experience competing at the Intel Science Talent Search like?
Intel STS is an incredible experience and I have been looking forward to it since I heard about it through science fair years ago. Being in Washington, DC with 39 other incredible high school students seemed intimidating at first. However, as soon as I met everyone in the E-Lounge at the St. Regis Hotel, I felt like a had found my people. The next week we all bonded over nerdy discussions about our research and our future plans for college and careers. We also managed to squeeze in movie nights, Dance Dance Revolution competitions, games of ninja, contact, and other bonding activities. While Intel STS is one of the most prestigious science competitions, the competition is not cut-throat but rather collaborative. We all enjoyed explaining science and math concepts to one another and discussing some of the questions that had stumped us during judging afterwards in the lounge. I can truly say that I made some lifelong friends during that week.


The judging experience was so differeShah_Naomi_OR_STS2013 06nt than anything I had encountered through years of science research previously. The questions they asked were either very open-ended or extremely specific and made us think outside of the box. In four 15-minute sessions, my brain was stretched in ways that I didn’t know was possible as I was asked to create technologies that didn’t exist, work through math problems on the spot, answer questions that I’ve never considered before, and force myself to see familiar concepts from angles that were outside my high school coursework and extensive research. At the end I felt humbled and inspired because what I realized is that it’s really about the thinking process and not necessarily about the answers.


While the finalists and judging process were the two most memorable parts of Intel STS, there were so many amazing perks to being a finalist. When we weren’t in the E-Lounge downstairs at the hotel, we were out and about taking night tours of the monuments, visiting museums, presenting our research to the public and distinguished guests at the National Geographic Museum, or shaking hands with the President of the United States! The gala awards ceremony had all of us in awe, and by the end, we couldn’t believe that Intel STS was already over. I’m still in touch with many fellow finalists, and will be for years to come!


How has doing original research and participating in events like the Intel STS affected you?
Doing original research and competing in science fairs like Intel ISEF and Intel STS for the past 7 years (I competed in my first Intel-sponsored science fair in 6th grade) has given me a platform that allows me to demonstrate my passion for and growth in my independent research. Each year, I return to these fairs with more knowledge and more research experience that allows me to answer the questions that I am curious about and that I am seeking answers to. I get to share my research with well-established researchers and scientists who judge, students from around the world who are engaged and interested, and the public who can benefit most from my environmental health research. As a high-school researcher, it’s not always easy to get people to see that your project can improve their quality of life – but through science fairs, I have gained confidence in myself as a researchShah_Naomi_OR_STS2013 31er and believe that by dedicating myself to a question, I can make a difference!


Do you have any advice for other young students interested in science?
My advice for young students interested in science is to find something you’re interested in and ask questions that you can answer. At first, these questions can be really “small” and seemingly insignificant but as you delve deeper and deeper into a field, your questions will become more specific and more technical. For example, the question that I asked as a 6th grader is “What is causing my family’s allergies?” so I started doing research and stumbled across air quality as a trigger for allergies and asthma. My next question was “How do air filters impact air quality?” These baby steps 7 years ago helped me get to the level of research that I am doing today where I am studying from an interndisciplinary lens the impact of airborne pollutants like PM10 and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) on the lung health of asthmatic patients. Further, with my knowledge base, I am working on creating a solution to the problem by developing a novel VOC biofilter to metabolically breakdown chemical pollutants.


Rather than trying to fit yourself into a research lab (which is fine for gaining experience working with certain techniques or equipment), instead read research papers and figure out what you want to answer. Even though we might not have advanced degrees, we still have the ability to think and problem-solve like a researcher and learning how to approach problems using the scientific investigation process is the fun part of tackling each subsequent question that pops up during research.


What are your future plans?
My short-term plans involve continuing work on my independent research and attending Stanford University, where I hope to explore more environmental engineering research. I want to further my biofilter research, which is a solution that I am currently working on to metabolically remove Volatile Organic Compounds from indoor air streams. My long-term goals involve working at the boundary between engineering and environmental research, as well as the subsequent social implications that follow, such as national regulatory policy.


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