2 posts categorized "Books"

02/22/2011

SSP Alumni Help Others Succeed with Science

Success with Science

Shiv Gaglani (Intel ISEF 2004, 2005, 2006) wished that, before he had participated the first time, he had been able to speak with someone who had lived through the Intel ISEF experience. That conversation may have helped him take even fuller advantage of all of the opportunities available to him and his fellow young scientists. This thought grew into the idea to write a book with the help of four other SSP alumni that includes advice and inspiration for students hoping to excel at high school research.  The book, Success with Science: The Winner’s Guide to High School Research, was published in January 2011.

 

The five co-authors, who also include Maria Elena "Ellen" De Obaldia (Intel ISEF 2002, 2003), Scott Duke Kominers (Intel ISEF 2005), Dayan "Jack" Li (Intel ISEF 2007), and Carol Y. Suh (Intel STS 2007; Intel ISEF 2005, 2006, 2007), took time out of their busy study and research schedules at Harvard University to complete the project.  “It was definitely worth it,” Shiv says, because “we are very passionate about what we are doing.”

 

Jack says that science fairs helped him to discover his interest in research. “I investigated the modulation of gene expression in cancer angiogenesis. To me, the dependence of tumor cells on their surrounding blood vessel network for nutrient and metastasis was fascinating,” he says. “I really wanted to understand more about the process.”

 

Carol was also inspired by science fairs, saying they were one of the best things about high school. She says, “Because participating in science fairs was so memorable and rewarding for me, I wanted others to have an easier time going through the process instead of trying to search for all the tips on their own.”  Scott, who has volunteered at the Excellence in Education Research Science Institute and with his Intel ISEF-affiliated fair, had similar motivations for co-authoring the book, saying, “I have tried to give back to the science community by helping the next generation of students gain access to research.”

 

In order to do this, the authors compiled tips and resources, as well as testimonies from more than 50 other successful student scientists. “The book is full of their quotes that are meant to encourage students to do research as well as guide them on how to get involved,” Shiv says. The authors also worked with former SSP Board Chair and Nobel Laureate Dudley Herschbach, who wrote the foreword, and they quoted SSP alumnus Homer Hickam, who is best known for writing the book on which the film October Sky is based on.

 

Jack hopes students will learn to “be proactive in taking advantage of the resources and opportunities outside the classroom. Sometimes taking the initiative to contact a research scientist for an opportunity to work in a lab or being part of a meaningful public service project leads you to interesting and fruitful paths.”

 

Shiv also thinks it is important to emphasize that, “the skills and qualities that you develop from doing research in science really carry forward to any career you choose.”  But, most importantly, he hopes readers realize that anyone can be a scientist, “that there are so many other students who can do this and that not all of them are necessarily geniuses. They’re normal students who found a question that really excited them and decided to go for it.”

 

07/15/2010

Fields Medal Recipient David Mumford’s STS Project “Sparked” an Interest in Theoretical Math

David Mumford-On Sailing trip at retirement party-smallIn 1953, David Mumford brought his home-made computer, made of old relays, and his knowledge of mathematics to Washington, D.C. to compete in what was then known as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search (STS).  He says he is not sure if he even got the computer, which was fastened to an unwieldy 4 by 8 piece of plywood, to work during the Science Talent Institute. This same computer would later catch fire when a spark hit the paper tape. “I caused a small fire.” He says laughing, after that, “I decided it was better to do theoretical work.”

 

David still came away from STS feeling inspired. “One of the things which is really important about [STS] is that it gives you a sense of empowerment, it gives you the sense that you can be part of some serious scientific endeavors,”   he says, remembering how he met the astronomer Harlow Shapley, a judge at STS, and was able to talk with him and other scientists about his work and ambitions. “More than simply the honor or the money, it is the feeling that, ‘hey, here I am, I’m a high school student, and maybe somebody believes that I can do something someday.’”

 

He took that sense of empowerment and, after putting aside the relays and physics, fell in love with theoretical, pure math at Harvard.  His work in algebraic geometry earned him the Fields Medal in 1974.  Since then he has co-written several books, including Indra's Pearls: The Vision of Felix Klein. He recently retired from Brown University and also has a new book, Pattern Theory: The Stochastic Analysis of Real-World Signals, coming out in August.

 

For twenty years now David has been working on computer vision; for instance the space of shapes and how computers may be able to recognize objects the way humans do, and loves it. “I think the message for people who are getting this sort of award and starting their career, is to be aware that an academic career allows people the opportunity to pursue projects their whole life,”  he says, adding that young students should not be afraid of taking on a project that may last a decade, or even a lifetime.  “I feel that the biggest successes are when people get bitten by a bug of wanting to solve something that is a really long term enterprise.”

 

In addition to finding a life-long passion, he also made two life-long friends at STS, Howard Resnikoff and Emma Duchane Shah, with whom who he has remained friends for 50 years.  Howard founded Aware, Inc, which develops DSL technology, and David has collaborated with Emma’s husband, Jayant Shah, who is also a math professor. “So that was a wonderful by-product,” David says, “making these connections.”

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