High School Girls At The Science And Engineering Fair Kick Ass And Take Names

Geniuses, NBD
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

You guys, I am officially, 100% not worried about the future at all. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix, Arizona, and met a GRIP of #sciencebabies who basically have the whole overpopulation, disease, natural disaster thing under control. Seriously. I am basically poolside writing this entire post in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses because I am so relaxed now.

So, the way ISEF works is that 1,600 pre-college kids from 60 countries descend upon the Phoenix Convention Center floor and it’s row upon row of roped off booths where each contestant presents their project. Apparently, it’s untoward to refer to the shindig as a “science fair” what with more than $3 million in grants and awards at stake, but basically everyone’s competing for the Big Prize, a.k.a. the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award. The competition is fierce since these dudes have already SMOKED school contests, regional contests and state contests.

The cool thing about the day I visited is that it was the day after the official judgement (postscript: these are the winners) so the vibe was a little more chill. No one yet knew who had won but everyone had presented and tap-danced their faces off the day prior, so they got to unclench and hang out a bit. I even saw a little mild-grade flirting which was cute, reassuring and terrifying when you consider what that means for the following generation of SUPERGENIUSES. Hopefully, they’ll be kind rulers.

I know it’s a little incongruous that I’d be mixing it up with my MTV Style hat on but ever since I talked to Jennie Lamere, the 18-year-old hacker who invented Twivo, I’ve been thinking a lot about how important it is for young women to have an ongoing discussion about how to nurture your interests and passions. And how you can take a fulfilling hobby and turn it into a career. I know this is a style blog but, whatever, it’s also a blog about girls who kick ass and take names so I went and talked to some young ladies who do just that (LOOK AT THE TITLE).

The main floor
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

Savanna Elizabeth Est
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

International flair
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

NAME: Savanna Elizabeth Est
SCHOOL: Emil E. Holt Senior High School
REPPING: Wentzville, MO
DISCIPLINE: Plant Sciences

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: To identify and observe the circadian and photomorphogenic genes in plants so that we can eventually manipulate the circadian clock to enable plants to flower multiple times per life cycle.

APPLICATION: To improve efficiency and sustainability in crop production in the face of a growing world population.

IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS: Isolating how best to futz with light to trick crops into making food more times a year with less space because: overpopulation.

WHO ARE YOU WEARING?: Ann Taylor Loft, it’s where I get all of my business-y stuff.

THING SHE SAID THAT BLEW MY MIND: “I work at a lab in St. Louis The Donald Danforth Plant Science center for two years. I’ve sold some of the equipment I designed to them. I designed a light simulator box to emulate the sun as it goes across the sky. A commercial box like this $64,921.05 and mine actually costs under $500. I went to Home Depot and got some supplies and wrote all the software myself which is why it’s less expensive. I love biology and engineering. I love integrating humanities with science because science is to make the world a better place but you have to think of who you’re making the world a better place for.”

Julia Beth Abelsky
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

NAME: Julia Beth Abelsky
SCHOOL: North Springs Charter High School
REPPING: Sandy Springs, GA
DISCIPLINE: Engineering Materials & Bioengineering

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Using methylmethacrylate under spherical and cylindrical confinement, it was possible to create a carpet cloak that manipulates the electromagnetic response of the surface to bend optical waves around the material.

APPLICATION: To cloak objects under various frequencies of light. Specifically radio, microwave, infrared and part of the visible spectrum.

DUUUUUUUDE, this is an INVISIBILITY CLOAK (for small things in specific conditions).

WHO ARE YOU WEARING?: I wore a suit yesterday and heels so today I’m wearing flip flops. The top is J Crew and my pants are from some outlet in Atlanta.

THING SHE SAID THAT BLEW MY MIND: There a similar study going on at MIT using Calcite which is a natural mineral so I wanted to see if I could do what they were doing but with a manmade material. It’s cheaper and it wouldn’t have a limited quantity. It wouldn’t have to be mined. Polymers can be mass produced.”

Rebecca, who was stoked not to be the only girl in the physics section
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

NAME: Rebecca Michelle Murray
SCHOOL: Greenwich High School
REPPING: Greenwich CT

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Laser-induced propulsion of anticancer Doxorubicin using low-power laser optical tweezing.

APPLICATION: Using laser light to introduce medications to cells causes minimal damage to the surrounding cells and doesn’t require mechanical intervention. This particular method transports miniscule amounts of drug molecules across a cell membrane.

IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS: Using a laser to introduce meds is not new but using a teeny-tiny 8 mW He-Ne laser effectively is a BIG DEAL.

WHO ARE YOU WEARING?: My blazer is Forever 21, the dress is from Bloomingdales.

THING SHE SAID THAT BLEW MY MIND: “An 8mW laser was what I had to work with. I had a class at school called honors science research we have a lot of things like lasers and microscopes just lying around that you can use to do experiments. The other option was a 40 mW laser and a 1,000 mW which is intense and dangerous. I got the idea from another former student at my school but he used a 1,000 mW class 4 laser and pretty much just blasted a big hole in the interface that was supposed to be the cell membrane and then sort of shoved the molecules across.”
DO YOU THINK HIS PROJECT APPLIED BRUTE FORCE ’CAUSE HE’S A DUDE? “[Laughs] Yes, I think that it’s not surprising if you ask me. I think my solution is more elegant.”

Yun Ha legit had to tell me where the Northern Mariana Islands were
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

Caption: Then she had to tell me WTF a Spidron was
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

NAME: Yun Ha Seo
SCHOOL: Tinian High School
REPPING: Tinian, Northern Mariana Islands
DISCIPLINE: Mathematical Sciences

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: To further explore the properties of spidrons—a tiled plane that uses a series of equilateral and isosceles triangles.

APPLICATION: Tons apparently. Not only are the designs beautiful but they can perform safety measures when incorporated into engineering and industrial design.

IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS: Spidrons save LIVES through intelligent design. Could be a dope shoe sole design if you ask me.

WHO ARE YOU WEARING?: It’s all Forever 21, I didn’t want to get so formal like yesterday. These shorts are more formal than cut-offs.

THING SHE SAID THAT BLEW MY MIND: “When you make poured concrete spidron blocks, it lessens damage. It’s better than pouring large concrete walls because when a bomb goes off or a building falls down, concrete breaks into chunks but spidrons will fall into smaller pieces. No one will be crushed by big chunks. A spidron nest can be used to cushion crumple zones in cars. For example if a car gets into an accident, the impact will crumple one portion of the car and create cushioning instead of random, jagged portions that could harm people inside or nearby. I’m an art student. I like math but I love art the most. I’m trying to go into illustration. For me, spidrons make cool clothing designs.”

Sarah kinda reminds me of Hailee Steinfeld
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

NAME: Sarah Julia Hyslop
SCHOOL: Bishop Carroll High School
REPPING: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
DISCIPLINE: Microbiology

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: To determine if potential novel classes of antibiotics could be identified by analyzing Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a super common bacterium found in animals and humans) gene expression in response to 13 antimicrobial substances and 14 antibiotics. Ninety-six mutant strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa were designed to produce light when one specific gene was expressed.

APPLICATION: To develop novel antibiotics to combat the increasing threat from multi-drug resistant bacteria.

IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS: Antibiotics we know about are played so she’s testing the efficacy of new ones.

WHO ARE YOU WEARING?: The blazer and pencil skirt are H&M, I love that the design looks like snakeskin. The shirt I got in a boutique in Seville on a school trip and the flats are from Payless. YOUR HAIR IS CRAZY LONG: I know, I would never, ever cut it. I love it.

THING SHE SAID THAT BLEW MY MIND: “Most of the antibiotics we use aren’t effective anymore. About 90,000 people die every year because of hospital infections against bacterial species that we don’t have an effective antibiotic against. I found that these substances affect different, specific genes in the bacteria so they would have a different method of action than anything we use now in killing it. If it affects different genes than it means it’s targeting different things—it could stop energy production of the cell or burst the cell membrane or DNA replication. I found nine substances effective substances, they’re from a chemical compound library in Russia. The lab I work at bought the rights to a 1,000 different compounds and you’ll never know which ones are good. When we got the statistical analysis back it was really amazing and really exciting. I was absolutely bugging.”

Johnna, not Johanna
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

NAME: Johnna Glover
SCHOOL: Manatee High School
REPPING: Bradenton FL
DISCIPLINE: Cellular & Molecular Biology

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: To design polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers to amplify the region of the phaseolus vulgaris (the common bean) genome which contains the TM gene and to determine the source of inheritance. Basically, mapping a region of a gene that’s responsible for resistance to the tobacco mosaic virus.

APPLICATION: Information gained about the source of the TM gene will help save plants that are normally killed off by the TMV which vastly reduces crop yield for plants like tomatoes.

IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS: Learning more about plant virology means more food for humans.

WHO ARE YOU WEARING?: I got the dress at TJ Maxx, the other stuff I think I got at Goodwill.

THING SHE SAID THAT BLEW MY MIND: “There’s definite artistry in science. Ever since we learned about genetics and DNA, I was fascinated that this small thing really determines who we are and dictates what we do and who we become. I like knowing how we work.”

Abbie’s from NY
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

Abbie’s toenails sport Fiji by Essie
Photo: Mary H.K. Choi

NAME: Abigail Orlando
SCHOOL: Eastchester High School
REPPING: Eastchester NY
DISCIPLINE: Social Science

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The effect of emoticon on human facial muscle activation and social evaluation using electromyographic technology.

APPLICATION: To study if emoticon use affects social evaluations and decision-making based on ratings of likability, trustworthiness and compatibility. (SPOILER: they do! And positively at that! DUH).


WHO ARE YOU WEARING?: The wedges are Steve Madden, I wore high heels yesterday but I presented 20 times and so I couldn’t walk this morning. These are so much more comfortable and my dress is Gap.

THINGS SHE SAID THAT BLEW MY MIND: Prior experiments have shown that the facial mimicry effect exists, if you see a photograph of a human face smiling, you smile. It’s automatic and instinctive. Within 50 milliseconds of perceiving an emotion, the face mimics the emotion. These expressions are micro expressions so we don’t know if we’re making them and we don’t know we’re perceiving them. I wanted to investigate if the facial mimicry effect exists as a response to emoticons. Emoticons are used to transfer emotion and I discovered that we do perceive them as an expression.
DID YOU DISCOVER DIFFERENT FINDINGS FOR THE ACTUAL EMOTICONS VERSUS TEXT EMOTICONS?: Those were my conditions! I found that classic emoticons, the yellow face ones, and text emoticons only show a small difference. It shows how smart our brains are.

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