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Beyond Science Fiction
December 06, 2011
GW hosts competition for nation’s most promising young STEM researchers.
The winners of a combined $500,000 in scholarship funding developed and conducted research in areas ranging from astrophysics to mathematics to biochemistry, developing new technologies that could eventually change their fields. And all of the winning scientists were high school students.
GW hosted the national finals and an award ceremony for the 2011 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, an annual competition for high school students. The competition, started in 1998, is sponsored by the Siemens Foundation and administered by the College Board. More than 2,400 students entered this year, as individuals and in groups, to submit more than 1,500 separate research projects. Six individuals and six teams competed in the finals.
“I was struck by how, when I talked to the students in front of their posters, they seemed to have a lifetime of intellectual history in their background,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp at the award ceremony in the Jack Morton Auditorium. “The sheer inventiveness of their projects was, I thought, astounding.” He congratulated the finalists on their achievements. “You are our hope for our future; in fact, you are our future. We’re very proud of you.”
Awards for team and individual projects ranged from $10,000 scholarships to two $100,000 grand prizes. The individual grand prize went to senior Angela Zhang of Cupertino, Calif., who used nanotechnology to develop a particle that can release cancer drugs specifically at the site of a tumor. The particle can then potentially eradicate cancer stem cells.
The team grand prize went to seniors Ziyuan Liu and Cassee Cain of Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who used Xbox Kinect gaming technology to analyze the human gait. Their research could potentially allow personalized rehabilitation and physical therapy to be performed remotely, in a patient’s home—which could be especially important in underserved or rural areas.
Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation, presented the awards. “It is a remarkable day for American innovation when our high school students do science research at this level,” she said. “I hope other students will follow their examples and embrace STEM subjects with such vigor.”
GW Professor and Chairman of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Michael Plesniak served as the lead judge of the competition finals. Choosing the winners was extraordinarily difficult, he said.
“The students here exhibited an exceptional level of maturity and poise,” he told the audience. To the students, he said, “It was clear how passionate you all are about your chosen topics, and the level of research you are all doing is truly outstanding.”
As a result of a three-year partnership between GW and Siemens, the university will continue to host the national finals of the competition through 2013. Regional partner universities—Carnegie Mellon, Notre Dame, MIT, University of Texas at Austin, Cal Tech and Georgia Institute of Technology—host the regional finals.
In addition to hosting the competition finals and awards, GW invited D.C. middle and high school students to campus on Friday for a workshop about STEM learning, and GW School of Engineering and Applied Sciences student mentors spent the evening with Siemens Competition finalists, socializing and talking about their experiences at GW.
Individual winner Angela Zhang said that her favorite part of conducting research is that it’s a constant learning process. “I’ve enjoyed reading papers, going to lectures and seminars, and learning about all sorts of cool research. I truly believe the actual research that’s happening now is beyond science fiction.”
Team winners Ziyuan Liu and Cassee Cain said they had dreamed about winning, but still couldn’t quite believe it was true.
“I’m over-the-moon ecstatic!” Mr. Liu said.
A webcast of the award presentation is available at www.siemens-foundation.org.
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