The Siemens Foundation named seniors Joseph Park and Jay Shim regional finalists and senior Anya Krok a semifinalist in the 2010-11 Siemens Foundation Competition in Math, Science & Technology.
The prestigious annual Siemens Competition recognizes high school students across the nation for science research projects. Of the 1,372 total submissions nationwide, 10 papers were selected from each of six regions in the United States to advance to the regional round: five individual and five group projects.
The regional finals will occur at Carnegie Mellon University on Friday, November 19, and Saturday, November 20. Park and Shim have already won 1,000 dollars each for advancing to the regional finals; there, they will vie for a chance to advance to the national round in Washington D.C. and to win the 100,000 dollar grand prize.
Park worked closely with an assistant professor at Hofstra University in the spring and summer of his junior year to complete his individual project, titled “Improved Upper Bounds for the Steiner Ratio.” The project is about mathematically “finding the most efficient point,” Park said.
He felt his project would best be explained through an example of how the mathematics would be applied in the real world. “If you have a bunch of randomly located oil rigs, you want to find the most efficient location to build a refinery plant so that [the total amount of piping required for transportation among the rigs] is minimized,” he said.
Shim completed a group project with a student from upstate New York that was titled, “Super Resolution Imaging of Filopodial Interactions of Gastric Cancer Cells.”
“There are little hair-like protrusions [called filopodia] on cancer cells and we wanted to see if they are used to communicate with other cancer cells in the area,” Shim said.
Shim stained cancer cells with a fluorescent dye, used a stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscope to scan the cells and viewed images of the cells with resolutions of tens of nanometers. His project attempted to present utilizing the STED microscope as the ideal method for studying the cells’ filopodia.
Krok worked with two students from Hunter College High School and High Technology High School on her group project, titled, “The Pneumonia Hypothesis: Exploring the Statistical and Genomic Foundations of Mortality from Pandemic and Non-Pandemic Influenza.”
The group collected data from 36 countries, regarding deaths by historically pandemic flus and bacterial pneumonias. An unexplained characteristic of the pandemic flus was that adolescents and adults were more severely affected than all other age groups were. Krok’s group tried to find relationships between the sets of data to support the hypothesis that the increased mortality in that age group was due to co-infections.
“We [also] tested whether or not [the] increased mortality in the [middle-aged persons] group can be attributed to an overload of cytokines—small molecules in the immune system that help locate intrusions—because immune systems at that age are more robust and capable of overreacting,” Krok said. “We matched up nucleotides in the NS gene, [a gene involved in stimulating cytokine release], from the Spanish flu, swine flu and seasonal flu strains to see which matched up the best.”
Shim was initially shocked that his paper had advanced to the regional round. “I was not really expecting [it],” he said.
Park was also surprised that he had made it thus far in the competition, but he looks forward to presenting his project at the regional finals. “I didn’t have too many high hopes for my project. It’s hard for a mathematics project to be a successful project for Siemens,” he said. “But my project has a lot of potential. It all just depends on how I appear to the judges and audience at Carnegie Mellon.”
The participants encountered obstacles in their research. “I remember being stuck on one part of my project for weeks. Sometimes I felt like just dropping it there, but I persisted,” Park said.
“I pretty much spent my whole summer at the lab doing research, and I still go after school about once a week. Because it is so time consuming, I have to sacrifice other extra-curriculars and my school work,” Shim said.
However, Krok attested to a sense of fulfillment for overcoming such obstacles. “It’s a nice feeling knowing that all of your hard work amounted to something,” she said.
Stuyvesant students in the past have met success in the competition. Last year, senior Stephanie Chen was named a national finalist. In 2007 and 2008, one Stuyvesant student was named a regional finalist and at least three were named semifinalists.
“Stuyvesant is one of the elite few schools that have Siemens finalists and semifinalists on a regular basis. So students should try it,” said biology teacher and Research Coordinator Jonathan Gastel, who has worked with Stuyvesant Siemens finalists in previous years. “You have to be very efficient and good at presenting your work because they don’t know anything about you. They don’t know that you go to Stuy. They only read the paper. Any national award, any award of this kind, is very difficult to acquire, so the performance of the individual has to be excellent.”