Five Potentially World-Changing Ideas from the 2017 Siemens Competition

High school competitors took on some of the biggest issues in STEM, from securing online auctions to preventing the deadly metastasis of breast cancer cells.

Finalist Neil Wary
Finalist Neil Wary discusses his research with George Washington President Thomas LeBlanc. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
December 11, 2017

The George Washington University hosted the national finals of the Siemens Competition for the seventh consecutive year Tuesday, bringing together a group of high school students who are taking on some of the most pressing issues in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

High school students submitted more than 1,860 research projects to the competition. Of those, ten team and individual projects advanced to the national finals last week to present their research to their peers and to a panel of expert judges led by Emilia Entcheva, a professor of biomedical engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Students also took part in activities like a tour of the Capitol, a virtual open house giving students a taste of GW and a workshop on robotics led by SEAS professor Shahrokh Ahmadi.

For the first time this year, a new prizing structure guaranteed that all finalists would receive a minimum $25,000 scholarship. First place winners received $100,000 and second place received $50,000.

“Whether or not you choose to pursue a career in science, you must now understand that you are in an elite club of people who are and will disproportionately change the trajectory of our world and our society,” Siemens Foundation CEO David Etzwiler told the 21 finalists at the award ceremony Tuesday.

Keeping Online Auctions Secure
Montgomery Blair High School senior Andrew Komo developed a cryptographic protocol designed to protect online bidding from fraud by keeping bidders’ offers completely private from all other parties. Once the auction closes, cryptographic information is revealed so that bidders and auctioneers can both ensure that the auction has run correctly. Mr. Komo was awarded the top $100,000 prize in the individual competition.

Understanding Genetic Disease
Arooba Ahmed, Jiachen Lee and Jillian Parker, juniors from the Half Hollow Hills school district in New York, discovered that reducing a protein called CDC11 in cells makes it impossible for those cells to divide and reproduce. That could have implications for understanding many genetic diseases, particularly neurodegenerative ailments. The trio shared the $100,000 first place award in the team competition.

Preventing Periodontitis
The gum disease periodontitis affects 46 percent of Americans, but Rachel Li, Jainil Sutaria and Chelsea Wang are taking steps to prevent it. They developed a gel compound that can act as a bacterial barrier between gum and tooth, allowing bone regeneration. The cross-country trio—Ms. Li and Ms. Sutaria are from New York, while Ms. Wang is from Fort Collins, Colo.—took home the $50,000 second-place team prize.

Keeping Breast Cancer from Metastasizing
Senior Kenneth Jiao of Indian Springs, Ala., had a personal brush with breast cancer: his mother was diagnosed with a tumor, though hers turned out to be benign. The experience made him determined to work to stop it. In his research, he discovered that the gene CHD7 plays a role in combating metastasis, the process by which malignant cancer cells spread from a primary site to other organs. All breast cancer deaths come as a result of metastasis to other organs like the bones, lungs or brain. Mr. Jiao took home a $25,000 individual scholarship.

Solving a Mathematical Mystery
Franklyn Wang, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., took on “Monodromy Groups of Indecomposable Rational Functions,” an issue that has stymied mathematicians for a century. His findings have a wide range of potential applications, from creating faster, more secure telecommunication algorithms to designing safer infrastructure, like bridges resistant to strong winds. Mr. Wang won the $50,000 individual second-place prize.

Learning & Research


Five of the Most Innovative Ideas from the 2016 Siemens Competition

December 08, 2016
High school students with a passion for math, science and technology presented their ideas at GW as part of the annual competition.

Six of the Coolest Ideas at the 2015 Siemens Competition Finals

December 09, 2015
High school students’ projects range from detecting cancer to cleaning up oil spills.