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.
Never 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
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 the 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, which 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 different 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?
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 researcher 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?
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
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
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.