HHS Science Fair highlights students’ perseverance

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The Hopkinton High School Science Fair was moved online this year, and according to lead organizer Kristen Murphy, the students showed great resolve and creativity to make this year’s event special in its own way.

A total of 64 students participated, either as individuals or part of a team, coming up with 35 projects. The awards ceremony was held Wednesday night via videoconference (and broadcast on HCAM).

“When things feel a little overwhelming or discouraging — and I think that’s happened to all of us a little bit this year — when I want to feel inspired, I always just go back to my Science Fair students and think about: This is the future of our science community. There are the students who are going to tackle these problems and do so with creativity and perseverance and an attitude that there’s no challenge too big, that they can’t take on,” said Murphy, a chemistry teacher at HHS.

“So I really want to have that be the message for [the awards ceremony], which is, now more than ever science is so important in our world. And we are so proud of the students who are already showing the way that they can use all of these wonderful skills that they’ve acquired through their families and their great schooling and their summer opportunities and use it to try and make the world a little bit better every single day.”

Top honors in the fair went to the team of Brian Gu, Bharat Mekala and Neil Abraham, whose project was titled “Designing the Modern Truck.”

Abraham said the team members took advantage of their 3D modeling skills, and while they did not have immediate success, that only made them work harder to find solutions.

“It was classic design process,” he said. “We made something, it failed, then we went back to the drawing board. We found out what went wrong, we found out where we could go better, we did some research, we expanded our knowledge on the topic, we made our next design and we failed again. We did the same thing, we failed again, but we kept getting better. We did a lot of research, we all really expanded our knowledge a lot. This year really tested our teamwork skills. But overall it was a great experience for us.”

Second place went to freshman Eva Bennet for her project, “Development of an Innovative Alternative for Teratogenicity Testing.”

Third place was a tie between Simran Kaur for “Phytodrugs: A Novel Approach on a Planaria Model of Multiple Sclerosis” and Mantra Rajkumar for “Automatic Urinalysis System.”

The Valerie Lechtanski Prize for Perseverance, which recognizes a team that demonstrates perseverance, creativity and “Mrs. L’s signature can-do attitude” when encountering challenges in scientific exploration, went to Ishita Khurana and Prachi Meher, whose project was, “Environmental Effects on Long-Term Memory Consolidation in Drosophila Melanogaster.”

Saying this year’s fair was the “most competitive I can remember in program history,” Murphy announced that HHS will send 12 individuals/teams to the regional science fair at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in early March. In addition to the five previously mentioned, the other seven individuals/teams advancing are: Sreeja Bolla (“Determining the Pressure of Cerebrospinal Fluid Using a Noninvasive Optical Biosensor”), Sahithi Pogula (“In Silico Inhibition of Cas9 CRISPR Off-Target DNA Deleterious Mutations and Error Using AI, ANN and Machine Learning”), Chaitrali Samant (“Finding an Effective Deep Learning Algorithm for Chest Disease Detection”), Archita Nemalikanti (“Development of a Noninvasive Optical Biosensor Diagnosing Neonatal Hemoglobinopathies”), Vania Gautam (“Mathematical Modeling to Determine Underlying Variability in CDC COVID-19 Guidelines Adherence”), Fariha Fardin (“The Effect of EDTA on Calcium Deposits in Arteries”) and the team of Avani Daga, Briana Mallouh and Tomo Oga (“Furthering Mask Detection Technology”).

Murphy offered thanks to the students for their flexibility, the families for being supportive and allowing the students to work on the projects at home, the HHS Science Department — including subject matter leader Jen Smith and mentors Tricia Noblett, Charlotte Shire and Connor Zanini — principal Evan Bishop, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh and the entire administrative team, HCAM and the PTA, which provided sponsorship and cash prizes for the winners.

Bishop said he missed interacting with students in the school library, where the fair normally is held, and he praised their resiliency.

“I think it highlights tremendous dedication, creativity, authentic learning and of course the passion that our students have,” he said. “While this is different … it is no less impressive.”

Added Bishop: “There’s so many aspects of the Science Fair I love. Students having a voice and choice and a little economy in their learning needs to happen more often in education, and I think it’s a great opportunity for them to do that.”

Cavanaugh likewise lauded the students for pushing through during the pandemic.

“I am marvelously proud of all of you,” she said. “Your projects reflect your ability to identify some kind of societal of human need. You spend countless hours working on them. You weave in all kinds of other learning, critical thinking, reading, writing, presentation, mathematics. You learn the skills of perseverance, resilience, tenacity. As our student speaker said, you experience failure, you experience success. Truly, the 60 of you are part of the Hopkinton legacy of science excellence.”

Smith called attention to Sreeja Bolla and Archita Nemalikanti for taking first place in the 2020 Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair and winning the Sanofi-Genzyme Award. Along with the award comes a $10,000 grant to the HHS Science Department.

“Part of our plan is to utilize some of these funds as a scholarship for students to continue their pursuit of science education,” Smith said. “We are happy to announce that this year we are providing a scholarship for Hopkinton High School students to utilize during the summer of 2021. The scholarship can help fund program costs, tuition or other expenses aligned with the pursuit of additional science education.”

Murphy recognized 12 seniors who participated in the fair all four years: Adrina Arakelian, Fariha Fardin, Olivia Jones, Alannah Miller, Mantra Rajkumar, Izzy Saporoschetz, Eleri Schutte, Alisa Stolyar, Kelly Teitel, Alopa Waje, Srirupa Yerramsetti and Anne Zhu.

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