By Soumya Ravichandran

On March 22, 2015, OCSEF and OC Science presented a high school research showcase at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School. They featured the Intel STS and Siemens Competition Finalists of Orange County; Yelena Mandelshtam, Jennifer McCleary, and Aileen Wang. The program began with a salutation and introduction by the Executive Leadership OC Science Board. After welcoming the showcase speakers, Jennifer and Aileen, they announced that Yelena unfortunately was unable to make it to program. After opening remarks, the co-president of OCSEF and Broadcom Corporation, Prasanthi Sathyaprakash, talked a little about the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair, and emphasized that it feeds directly into prestigious science fairs. They have inspired students of all ages to participate, and they recently went to Portola Elementary to encourage students of exciting opportunities. The program continued with the presentation of Jennifer McCleary.

Jennifer is currently a senior at Arnold O. Beckman High School. Her passion for science began when she began taking classes at Concordia University, and she began exploring sustainable energy. Although it was “not a rigorous project”, Jennifer believes that this jumpstarted her inquisitive mind. She became interested on this topic, and set out to characterize specific properties of metal oxides to cut down on the number of possibilities of photocurrent generation. Under the guidance of her research mentor, Dr. Ashley Mueller, she began to study and conduct more research and became an active participant in the SEAL project. One summer, her mentor had to take an emergency flight back to Germany, and Jennifer decided to start working on her own science project. She began to analyze properties in anodes, bandgaps and their correlation to colors and their performance. Without further thought, she applied her findings to the Siemens Competition and Intel STS. Much to her surprise, she became a finalist for Siemens in 2014 and Intel STS in 2015. Throughout her presentation, she emphasized, “Don’t be afraid to take opportunities that come at you.” Initially, she was scared that she was just a high school student and that nobody would take her seriously, but she soon grew to realize that, “Its okay to admit that you don’t know everything and once you do, people will respect you.” For all her hard work, she won an exclusive trip to Washington D.C. and met the President. After Jennifer’s amazing presentation, the program continued to Aileen Wang.

Aileen Wang is an Intel STS semifinalist in 2015 and Siemens Competition 2014 regional finalist for finding a more efficient way to diagnose breast cancer. Currently, she is a senior at Aliso Niguel High School. Shocked by her aunt’s late diagnosis of breast cancer despite having yearly mammogram screenings, Aileen pondered on why doctors did not diagnose it earlier, and why it did not show up in the mammogram screening. Curiosity led her to making an award-winning science project on this. She researched the basic mammogram procedure and learned the current technology used to diagnose breast cancer from Avid Academy Summer Research Institute. Then, she developed the first version of MATLAB program for diagnosing breast cancer. The new MATLAB program she had detected 94% of malignant breast mass and reduced the inaccuracy rate from 17.6% to 6%. After submitting her project to OCSEF, she quickly progressed onto the California State Science Fair. After receiving feedback on her project, she further exemplified it by reconstructing an image using Pseudo-Zernike Moments and extracted the RMC feature. She presented it later to the Siemens Competition and found it to be a great experience to communicate and learn from the judges and fellow finalists. She also presented her findings abroad and attended the 7th International Conference on Breast Cancer in Venice, Italy. From her project, Aileen learned that being involved early in science research fuels once passion and prepares them for a life of success.

Subsequent to Aileen’s informative presentation, Dr. Li, co-president of OCSEF and director of Avid Academy, gave a short speech on “How to Conduct a Winning Science Fair Project.” Dr. Li began his presentation by sharing the pathways to college; winning science fairs, publishing a research paper, writing a phenomenal college essay, just to name a few. By far, the most important thing, he told us, was sharing our work. Many students fail to understand the importance of sharing their hard work to science fairs and organizations that recognize their effort. He told us that through his son’s experience of becoming a scientist he learned many skills for life including motivation, perseverance, curiosity, time-management, public speaking, social presence, and determination. Furthermore, he told the audience that it is crucial to think about new ideas and ways; many students make the fatal mistake of stopping their research on a project as soon as they win an award, but the most important thing is to pursue the research and make more beneficial changes for our society. In conclusion, the program was highly informative and inspiring for children as well as adults. From the finalists’ presentations, it is evident that being successful is definitely a challenge, but when it is obtained the pleasure is unbounded.