Stuyvesant senior Angela Fan won top honors at the 2012 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She won first in the Botany category, the Intel Best in Category, and received the “Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar” (SIYSS) award. ISEF, facilitated by Intel Science Talent Search, is the largest international pre-college science competition. Fan was one of more than 1500 students from around the globe competing for monetary prizes and other prestigious forms of recognition.
“It was very interesting,” Fan said, “because the girl next to me was from Saudi Arabia and the boy across from me was from Russia. The girl spoke English but the boy didn’t, so we had to communicate through Google Translate.”
The awards were given to students who placed first, second, third and fourth, as well as the Intel Best in Category within any given scientific category, which was the highest honor in a category, in addition to sponsored awards. The monetary prizes ranged from $500 for a fourth place finalist to $75,000 for the winner of Gordon E. Moore Award. Fan, along with the two other SIYSS winners, will attend the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden, and will meet with Nobel laureates.
In the experiment for which she won the award, Fan developed a method for identifying the genes controlling plant growth. By identifying these genes she hypothesized that scientists could gain the ability to control aspects of plant growth, such as increased root growth. Being able to increase root growth would allow plants to flourish in regions otherwise considered inhospitable to plant growth. “Basically, you could give me a plant and an environment, and using these techniques I could genetically engineer the plant to live in that environment,” she said.
Given the recent explosion of the human population, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide enough food to feed the planet’s increasing population. Fan’s project offers a solution to the problem of food scarcity and starvation. “As the world’s population keeps growing, the problem becomes how we can feed the people. This is a good way to achieve agricultural sustainability,” Fan said.
Fan’s journey to ISEF started as a sophomore in the Biology Intel Research class at Stuyvesant. With support from her supervisor, biology teacher Jonathan Gastel, Fan applied to more than 60 laboratories. She interviewed with three of the laboratories, and ended up doing her research at New York University with a mentor, Dr. Gloria Coruzzi. After a short trial period, Fan was able to begin her research.
She entered her research analysis into numerous competitions, and on top of her ISEF honors she was an Intel Science Talent Search finalist. In addition to her scientific success, Fan is the captain of the policy debate team and enjoys swimming. Fan will be attending Harvard in the upcoming fall.
“I would definitely continue this type of research in college,” she said. “It’s probably going to have a large commercial application, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to take it there yet.”