Every year, over 1300 students from around the country enter the Siemens Competition for math, science and technology. The applicants formulate research papers based on actual experimentation and submit them with hopes of winning the grand prize, a 100,000 dollar scholarship and the honor that comes along with it.
This year, junior Stephanie Chen was named a finalist and senior Jack Greisman a semifinalist on October twenty-third.
Greisman chose to focus his project on the sporulation of bacteria, which he describes as “a mechanism used by several types of bacteria to survive in adverse conditions,” he said. Greisman chose this topic because “sporulation is a unique evolutionary adaptation, and it’s actually pretty cool,” as well as a long time interest “in studying how these cells are able to differentiate in these ways,” he said.
Greisman has been studying this mechanism for over two years both in the lab of New York University with Professor Dr. Patrick Eichenberger and the Stuyvesant laboratories during a science research 10-tech. Greisman, however, sees a real life benefit to his work, outside of the realm of the competition. “I determined a potential binding site for a drug that could inhibit the resistance of bacillus endospores” Greisman said in an email interview. Bacillus endospheres are well known for causing anthrax, and the hypothetical drug designed by Greisman could one day serve as an invaluable tool in the fight against bio-terrorism.
Although the mental rigors of the competition and hours of research may be viewed by some as the greatest challenge of the contest, Greisman said that he thought the hardest part was meeting the October 1 deadline. “It’s hard to have all your laboratory work done by this time, let alone have a paper written,” Greisman said. By doing so much research in advance, however, Greisman felt he had an edge over all other competitors.
Greisman has been working with professor Eichenberger for two years on his project and has used this valuable time in a lab and the experience of his teachers to develop the research for his project, getting almost a two year head start on many of the contestants. “I felt that I had enough of my research completed to convey a strong sense of my work over the past two years or so,” Greisman said.
While Greisman entered the competition alone with only the help of his mentors, Chen decided that she wanted to work in a group, teaming up with two of her friends from Francis Lewis High School to enter the competition.
Chen, who wants to be either a heart surgeon or a research scientist someday, feels that apart from the winnings, she has a lot to gain form the competition. “I felt it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about the mechanics of a machine similar to the MRI machine, and learn about a science different from medicine,” Chen said.
Chen’s project focuses on using an electron spin resonance (ESR) machine to date teeth from archaeological sites that show evidence of hominid activity. “I decided to choose this topic because I was intrigued that both the ESR spectrometer and MRI machine worked by detecting movement of subatomic particles,” Chen said.
Chen, who entered the contest looking to become a better research scientist, estimates that she and her team spent almost 800 hours doing research and experimentation, most of it at the ESR lab at Williams College. They also spent a considerable amount of time at the Robert F. Kennedy summer science institute where they received a lot of guidance from experienced research scientists. “Dr. Blackwell and Dr. Blickstein, instructors at the institute, made sure we were preparing our samples correctly, and they helped us with our research papers,” Chen said.
While Chen and her teammates are thrilled to have advanced so far, their work is not finished. From Thursday, November 19 to Sunday November, 22, they will travel to the Siemens Regional Finals at Carnegie Mellon as part of a three day event for the grand prize.
During the final round of competition, Chen and her team will compete with nearly a hundred other finalists by presenting a memorized presentation summarizing and explaining their project to a panel of judges.
Both Chen and Greisman put a lot of mental energy into their works, but the rewards for their efforts go far beyond having their name put down on a list of winners. The experiences they gained from the contest set them further on the path of achieving their ultimate career goals.