TJ Students Excel in Major Research Competitions
The ISEF Seven, JUMP Lab’s Success, Results from Intel STS and Siemens
The ISEF Seven
On May 10th, seven TJ students headed to Pittsburgh, PA, chaperoned by Mt. Vernon physics teacher Charley Sabatier and accompanied by other FCPS students and teachers, for a week of networking and competition at the 66th annual Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF). ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, with approximately 1,700 high school students from over 75 countries participating.
TJ Junior Ava Lakmazaheri earned highest honors in her category, and the TJ contingent earned several other awards and represented our school with pride.
Ava Lakmazaheri,’16, Robotics & Intelligent Machines
“Brain-Actuated Robotics: Controlling and Programming a Humanoid Using Electroencephalography”
ISEF Best of Category Grand Award of $5,000 (plus $1,000 for TJ and $1,000 for Fairfax County Regional Fair); First Grand Award of $3,000; London International Youth Science Forum – The Philip V. Streich Memorial Grand Award, a two-week program held annually for 300 young scientists from more than 50 countries; Special Award of $1,200 from the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) for projects reflecting originality and innovation; Second Special Award of $500 from Ashtavadhani Vidwan Ambati Subbaraya Chetty Foundation for projects with potential to alleviate the human condition; Honorable Mention Special Award from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) for best interdisciplinary project; Drexel full tuition scholarship (should she choose to enroll)
State 2nd Grand Prize; Leidos Special Award, applied science, third; U.S. Air Force Special Award; Yale Science and Engineering Special Award; and numerous Regional Fair awards, including the Preparation, Filing, and Prosecution of a US Patent Application by Hunton & Williams LLP
Ava’s project combines her interests in neuroscience and robotics. She began the project on her own over the summer while enrolled in an online neuroscience class. After viewing the famous video that shows a woman with quadriplegia controlling a robotic arm with her thoughts, Ava decided to work toward building a viable brain-actuated exoskeleton for helping people with severe disabilities perform day-to-day tasks.
She decided to start her work in this area by building and testing a brain-actuated humanoid robot. With many years of experience building navigational robots and competing successfully at every level, she built her first humanoid, Artie, which employs an anthropomorphic robotic hand for manipulating objects. At the same time, she developed a hardware and software interface that can use an individual’s raw brainwaves (real-time EEGs) to control and program the robot. Ava hopes that Artie can serve as a testbed for building robots that will improve the lives of people with physical disabilities by allowing them to control robotic limbs using nothing more than their brainwaves.
Ava’s is a user-friendly system. Unlike others that require the user to meditate and practice in order to learn how to control their brainwaves, Ava’s does not require any training. Instead, the user can control the robot by clenching his or her jaw or making other facial movements. Because even this technique is time consuming and could be taxing on the user, Ava plans to study and explore other brain signal generation techniques beginning this summer.
The most unique feature of Ava’s work is what she calls brain-actuated programming: “My system allows the use of brainwaves to actually write programs for automating repetitive robot movements. The user not only controls but also programs the robot using his or her brainwaves, rendering the need for continuous robot control for repeated tasks obsolete, which reduces mental stress on the user and increases movement efficiency,” she explained.
A big surprise from the Regional Fair was the award of pro bono patent law services by the law firm Hunton & Williams LLP. “I had no idea that a patent law firm was evaluating the science fair projects at the regional fair. But I have to say, receiving the award meant a lot to me as it points to the commercial viability of the idea. I have not yet had a chance to carve out and formalize the part of my work that potentially can be patented. I plan to do so during the summer months and then initiate the filing process with Hunton & Williams soon thereafter,” Ava said.
Rohan Suri, ’17, and Clarissa (Claire) Scoggins,’16, Systems Software
“Development of a Rapid, Accurate, and Private Contact Tracing System Utilizing Smartphone Proximities”
ISEF Third Grand Award of $1,000; Third Special Award of $300 from the Association for Computing Machinery
Regional Grand Prize
Claire and Rohan, who have the same 45-minute bus ride home from TJ each day, had been using the time to discuss various computer science subjects when suddenly the Ebola outbreak became front page news. After researching the methods being used to determine the disease’s spread and realizing how outdated they were, they decided they could make the process more efficient.
In epidemiology, contact tracing, the process of identifying and isolating contacts of infected individuals through manual interviewing, is the primary technique used to control the spread of highly infectious diseases. Its manual nature makes it inherently laborious, inaccurate, and slow. Claire and Rohan’s project aimed to develop an accurate method of contact tracing that is faster and more cost-effective than traditional methods “by automating the process and leveraging the ubiquitous smartphone,” according to the project’s summary.
In January 2015, the two began working on their app, doing most of the work separately at home, using a system called Git to code collaboratively. They created a basic mobile Android app that uses Bluetooth to scan for nearby devices, calculate the distance between the phones, and log each contact, storing time and proximity data. When one user reports sick, the system notifies the users who had been within a particular degree of proximity during a set time, depending on the disease presented.
The team’s research showed that their system improves upon current contact tracing methods. The system measured contact accurately 96% of the time and was able to identify over seven times more contacts than traditional methods. It also identified contacts almost instantaneously, a significant improvement over the usual two-to-three days. Finally, the cost of contact identification per patient was nearly zero (and users considered the impact on battery life to be minimal) and requires no human resources, in contrast to traditional contact tracing, which is extremely expensive.
With two additional team members — Kevin Livingstone, ’16, and Varun Iyengar, ’17, — and using the name “kTrace Portfolio,” Claire and Rohan’s project also won the Cybertechnology & Security category of the 2014-2015 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge competition, for which the team members received the title “Pete Conrad Scholars.”
Matthew Park, ’15, Microbiology
“Detecting Novel Strains of the Lassa virus in Sierra Leone via an Interdisciplinary Modernization by Genomic Sequencing”
ISEF Third Special Award of $1,000 from the American Society for Microbiology
State Grand Prize Runner Up; U.S. Navy/Marine Corps Award, Office of Naval Research; Virginia Dental Association Science Talent Award, grand prize
This is Matthew’s second year in a row participating at ISEF. His project is the continuation of work he began two years ago at the Naval Research Laboratory as a Science & Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) intern. This year’s work delved further into the exploration of the genetic diversity of the Lassa virus in Sierra Leone by significantly expanding the sample set and employing more complex genetic algorithms. Through these improvements and the use of high-density resequencing microarrays, Matthew was able to provide better consolidated genetic evidence of the formation of new viral clusters and even detect novel strains of the Lassa virus. “These results . . . are a step forward into predicting the rise of genetic variants within the Lassa virus genome. Such a capability will aid the development of more advanced and modernized gene therapy targets and drugs,” Matthew said.
Matthew is too busy looking forward to another summer in the lab to dwell on his science fair accomplishments. “The awards and prizes are all nice, but . . . at the end of the day, what I take away from participating in science fairs is a satisfaction of having excitedly shared my findings with interested researchers and new relationships that have and will continue to guide me further in scientific research.” This summer he’ll be at NIH as an Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Fellow at the National Institute for Allergy & Infectious Disease studying viral protein-protein interactions. “The next tier of study on disease pathology beyond genetics is proteomics, which excites me all the more about the work I’ll be doing this summer!” Matthew said.
Jung Yoon (Sara) Kim, ’15, Mathematical Science
“Connected Matchings in Graphs with Independence Number 2”
ISEF Honorable Mention Special Award from the American Mathematical Society
Regional Grand Prize
Sara started her project about a year ago through PRIMES-USA, a program in which a select group of high school juniors work on mathematical research projects provided by MIT faculty. Sara was able to develop her own conjecture by looking at some salient patterns in small graphs. Her conjecture holds that if a graph has at least 4n-1 vertices, then it contains a connected matching of size n. She proved that her conjecture holds for n less than or equal to 17 and coded it up to 24. For her senior research project, she is currently working on a related computer program in the Computer Systems Lab.
Richard Oh, ’15, Materials Science
“Pressure-Assisted Microwave Sintering Production of Transparent Spinel”
Regional Grand Prize
Richard chose his project from a list of topics given to him by his SEAP internship mentor at the Naval Research Laboratory two summers ago, and continued his research the following summer. His work investigated a new method of processing spinel into a transparent state, a process known as Pressure-Assisted Microwave Sintering (PAMS). Transparent spinel is much lighter and stronger than bullet-proof glass and is therefore an excellent alternative for use in armor, cellphone screen protectors, and various window applications, including use in nuclear power plants where windows must be resistant to radioactive decay.
Richard found that the PAMS processing method is superior to conventional processing techniques, which employ furnace-generated heat alone or in combination with pressure. Because microwaves can transmit through spinel, heating a sample with microwaves can achieve a more uniform temperature throughout the sample than furnace heat, which heats from the exterior. Moreover, it turns out that microwaves also have a nonthermal effect on spinel, with the result that when heated by microwaves the spinel becomes even stronger and more transparent. Richard’s work shows that spinel samples that undergo PAMS have significantly fewer imperfections than conventionally treated spinel, resulting in higher optical quality and strength.
Prathik Naidu, ’17, Computational Biology & Bioinformatics
“A Novel Approach to Gene Expression Analysis of Ethnicities”
Regional Grand Prize
After reading an article about the future of personalized medicine, Prathik decided to apply his interests in biological sciences and computer science to develop a computational method of analyzing genetic data that would be faster, more accurate, and easier to use than existing technologies. He corresponded with a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, but otherwise he conducted his research independently.
Medical research has shown that some ethnicities are more prone to certain diseases than others. However, current technologies for the analysis of genetic data are both inefficient and inaccurate. Analyzing and testing his software on the American European, Yoruba African, and Great British ethnicities, Prathik’s results indicated a 95% success rate for the method, much higher than the percentage for current technologies. “My computational approach has immediate applications towards optimized drug design, targeted cancer therapeutics, and evolutionary analysis for different ethnicities, bringing us one step closer to a new era of personalized medicine,” Prathik said.
Other State Fair First-Place Winners
Annie Abraham, ’16, Behavioral and Social Science, “Neural Correlates of Gesture Comprehension in Natural Communication” (also American Psychological Association Award)
Michael You, ’16, and Andrew Charbonneau, ’16, Physics & Astronomy, “Bubble Oscillation in Vessels and Its Implication on Marine Mammals” (also U.S. Navy/Marine Corps Award, Office of Naval Research)
Dhruv Gupta, ’16, and Srijith Poduval, ’16, Computer Science, “The Process of Gathering and Analyzing Twitter Data to Predict Stock Returns” (also Intel Excellence in Computer Science Award)
Seungha (Doyle) Lee, ’16, Julian Vallyeason, ’16, Hongyi (Charlie) Guan, ’16, Energy & Transportation, “Engineering a Soil-based Microbial Fuel Cell”
JUMP Lab an Instant Success
The first year of the Jefferson Underclassmen Multidiscipline Projects (JUMP) Lab was a huge success. The Lab proved to be a tremendous resource, providing underclass students interested in conducting research on a variety of topics with dedicated space; equipment; and faculty, alumni, and student mentors, all available on campus during the regular school day (see also December 2014 issue).
The first cohort of underclass students to use the JUMP Lab included four who conducted their solo research at offsite labs at such institutions as GMU and Children’s National Medical Center, and twelve working on a total of seven projects in the Lab. Assisting students with in-house projects were JUMP Lab Director Dr. Dan Burden and senior JUMP Mentors, all of whom are experienced science fair participants: Abhishek Bhargava, Matthew Park (see above), and Katie Pruitt.
JUMP Lab students, who were asked to devote three of five 8th-period blocks per week to research, gave up or worked around numerous other 8th-period and athletic commitments in order to spend time in the Lab or at their offsite locations. For students who were able to commit sufficient time to their projects, the payoff was tremendous. In its very first year, three JUMP Lab projects — all of them conducted in-house — garnered First Place category awards at the Virginia State Science & Engineering Fair:
Ava’s robot (see ISEF, above): Ava spent about three hours a week working on her robot in the JUMP Lab and put in many more hours on research, brainstorming, and programming during the summer, over school holidays, and on weekends.
Charlie, Julian, and Doyle’s soil project (see State Fair, above): The team worked on their soil project in the JUMP Lab during lunch almost every day and during almost all 8th periods, frequently staying after school and occasionally meeting at Doyle’s house. “[JUMP Lab Director] Dr. Burden was of great help to us,” Doyle said.
Inspired by a device that could convert human waste to drinking water, the team decided to investigate the viability of using another readily available organic resource — the mud found at the bottom of rivers — to create electricity, with pure drinkable water as a byproduct. Using naturally occurring bacteria found in Virginia benthic mud, they created a microbial fuel cell that successfully generated electricity. Their fuel cell, which can be made using only natural resources, containers, carbon cloth, and wire, is both environmentally friendly and cost efficient, making it particularly useful for bringing power to developing countries.
Dhruv and Srijith’s Twitter project (see State Fair, above): Dhruv and Srijith’s algorithm predicts stock returns for individual companies based on the public sentiment revealed in Tweets mentioning the company. The team started the project at the 2014 Pilot DC hackathon (see Hack), and when they realized they had more than a 24-hour project on their hands they continued running experiments on Dhruv’s laptop. As soon as they began using the JUMP Lab’s computer, however, they were able to both expand the project’s scope and improve its accuracy. Under the guidance of MIT’s Professor Andrew Lo and his graduate student William Li, and GMU’s Professor Alex Tabarrok, who generously responded to the team’s request for advice, they were able to employ professional techniques, algorithms, and economic theories.
After learning about a new contest — the MIT INSPIRE High School Research Competition in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences — the team decided to enter. In April of this year, their project received the competition’s Aristotle Award for Best in Competition and Presentation (and First Place in the Economics category), along with an $8,000 cash prize. “We were shocked to hear our names called. We had expected to just go there, have fun, and come back. What we actually got was an unbeatable experience,” Dhruv said.
The Lab’s success is particularly gratifying for Matthew Park, whose suggestion for having seniors mentor underclass students was the inspiration for TJ’s JUMP Mentor program. “My hope was to help students get through the stress and struggle of preparing for science fair, whether it be developing a project idea, elaborating on it during the actual research period, or treading through the paperwork. With Dr. Burden’s support, I was able to begin mentoring prospective students interested in scientific research. What was perhaps most motivating was the fact that all the students who were part of the JUMP Lab, including the mentors, had a common interest in scientific discourse.”
Dr. Burden is also very pleased with the JUMP Lab’s first year. He believes that for highly motivated students, the Lab provides an additional measure of support that helps them turn ideas into reality and follow through with science fair preparations. He plans to accept applications for next year’s JUMP Lab during the first week of the 2015-2016 school year.
TJ Students Are Intel Semifinalists, Siemens Regional Finalists
In January, six TJ seniors were recognized as semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. Formerly sponsored by Westinghouse, 2015 was the competition’s 74th year, the 18th for Intel.
Six of Fairfax County’s eight semifinalists were from TJ:
- Tim Cha, “Advanced Aptasensor Capable of Rapidly Diagnosing Prostate Cancer with Addition of Enhancer”
- Pooja Chandrashekar, “Towards the Rapid Diagnosis of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in a Clinical Setting”
- Eduard Danalache, “A Cluster-Based Approach to Determine Subcategories of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury”
- Lucas Lin, “Suppressing Complex Collective Behavior in a Network of Theta Neurons by Synaptic Diversity”
- Shreya Nandi, “Early Replication in ALT-Utilizing Cells May Induce Tumorigenesis”
- Richard Oh (see ISEF, above)
A record 4,428 students submitted a total of 1,784 projects for consideration in the 15th Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, a 12% increase over the number of projects submitted last year. In October 2014, three TJ students were among the 97 students named Regional Finalists:
- Michael You, ’16, and Andrew Charbonneau, ’16 (see State Fair, above)
- Jesse Cai, ’16, with Matthew Yu of Maryland’s Montgomery Blair HS, “Induced Magnetization and Band Gap in Graphene-Like Materials: Towards Spintronics “