April 20, 2004

Symposium highlights high school students' research

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two exceptional high school scientists from Illinois are preparing to compete in the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium at the end of the month following regional competition at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Seven students in all earned top honors based on research papers they presented at the 26th annual Illinois Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, hosted by SIUC's College of Science. SIUC was one of 48 regional sites nationwide, with the top five entries qualifying for an expense-paid trip to the 42nd annual national competition, April 28-May 2, in Baltimore.

The top two finalists, Arun P. Thottumkara, a senior at Macomb Senior High School, and Francis Lee, a senior at Vernon Hills High School, will present their research papers in the national competition. Also attending the event are Brian Spector, a junior atCarbondale Community High School, and Anna Dowling, a freshman at Rochester High School. The remaining three top students from the regional competition cannot attend the national competition due to scheduling conflicts.

A total of 87 students from 24 high schools participated in the regional symposium at SIUC, where they visited University laboratories and interacted with professional researchers. Twenty-five young scientists presented their research, either in paper or poster form, to their peers and judges March 29.

The top three finalists earned undergraduate tuition scholarships of $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000, respectively, through funding from the Army, Navy and Air Force. If any of these students choose to attend SIUC and major in science, the College of Science will provide a matching amount.

For a second straight year, Arun P. Thottumkara won the regional symposium's research paper presentation. Inspired by the growing demand for eco-friendly chemical processes, his research merges traditional synthetic organic chemistry with green chemistry, a new field that seeks to provide environmentally friendly chemical processes and reagents. He receives a $2,000 undergraduate scholarship to the university of his choice funded by the Army, Navy and Air Force. In Baltimore, Arun will compete for up to a $10,000 scholarship from the same sponsors. In winning the national competition last year, Arun received $20,000 in scholarship money and a free two-week trip to London to the International Youth Science Forum.

As the winner of this year's regional Siemens Westinghouse National Competition in Math, Science, and Technology, Arun won a $3,000 scholarship. He then finished second at the national competition, earning a $50,000 scholarship.

Arun is president of his class, the Student Council, Science Club, and is president and captain of the Scholastic Bowl team. He is a DARE role model, was an Illinois representative to the 2002 Youth to Washington trip, and volunteers at a local hospital. He also competes in tennis and cross-country for his high school. He is the son of T.K. and Deepika Vinod of Macomb.

Although it has happened before, it is unusual for students to win regional symposium competitions two years in a row, said Linda S. Martin, assistant dean in the College of Science and director of the regional symposium.

"Arun is truly an exceptional student," said Martin. "He has been publishing his research efforts already in Tetrahedron Letters, a peer-reviewed chemistry journal; he has a patent pending on his chemical research; and has presented his research at four Midwest American Chemical Society meetings, as well as the national ACS meeting in Chicago.

"Is this the norm? Certainly not," said Martin.

The symposium provides an opportunity for students to see how they can excel and set higher goals, said Martin.

"We try to provide opportunities while students are here to visit faculty labs and learn about research, to spark their interest, to give them tips on how to prepare their research submissions, and send them home excited and ready to try their hand at scientific research," she said.

Francis Lee was second and receives a $1,500 scholarship. His research focused on seeking a method to maximize the amount of peptide hormones extracted from cockroach ovaries with the goal of controlling cockroach populations.

Francis is a 2004 Illinois State Scholar and is active in numerous extracurricular activities. He has served as class president, vice president, and Student Council representative. He played junior varsity volleyball and varsity tennis, and is vice president of Penwasciz Health Careers Program, a hospital volunteer program. He is the son of Young Hwan and Young Ae Lee, of Indian Creek.

Grant Lewis, a senior at Delavan High School, was third and receives a $1,000 scholarship. His research focused on trying to determine how well a small engine could run on high blends of ethanol.

Grant, who has been accepted to the U.S. Air Force Academy, is also the recipient of the Navy/Marines Distinguished Achievement Award, the Army's Excellence in Engineering Award and first place in engineering at the IJAS State Fair. He is president of his school's FFA chapter, and is active in numerous school groups, including student council, science club, drama club, Spanish club and scholastic bowl. He is captain of his school's baseball and cross-country teams. He is the son of John and Carrol Lewis ofDelavan.

Other students who presented their research papers, listed by high school, and their research topics are:

Carbondale Community High School

Brian Spector, a junior, is an active member of the mathematics team and Life Savers, and is a four-year IJAS participant. He also participated in Model United Nations and Scholar Bowl. His research topic, "Corn Pith as a Viable Packaging Material," focused on trying to determine whether corn pith can be used as a viable packaging material when compared to the commercially available packaging materials of Styrofoam, bubble wrap and popcorn. He is a member of the National Honor Society and a varsity soccer player. Brian, the son of Scott Spector and Kathy Pericak-Spector of Carbondale, will attend the national symposium.

Edwards County High School

Jason Metcalf, a senior, is a National Merit semifinalist and secretary of the Spanish Club, and is active in the Science Club and ALPHA. His research topic was, "Water Quality Survey of Edwards County." In 2003, Jason was a member of the team that advanced to national competition in the Team America Rocketry Challenge, and is the team's project manager this year. He is a member of the Scholastic Bowl team, and involved in the Social Studies Club, National Honor Society and Spanish Scholastic Bowl. He is the son of Jeff and Carrie Metcalf of Albion.

Edwardsville High School

Kate Lin, a sophomore, is very active in Math Team and the Science Fair Club at her school, and participates in Model United Nations. Her research topic, "Why Two Beams with Different Depths have Different Failing Points," studied the ways a wooden beam fails when loaded in the middle of its span. She is a member of the school orchestra and has played violin for 11 years. Kate tutors third- through fifth-grade students and participated in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's Robotics Competition. Kate is the daughter of Chiang and Sheila Lin of Glen Carbon.

Rochester High School

Anna Dowling, a freshman at Rochester High School, won Best in State at the Illinois Junior Academy of Science State Science Fair in both paper and project sessions in the Engineering Division. Her research topic, "Corn By-Products: Insulation of the Future, Part II," focused on determining whether corn by-products are a feasible alternative to commercial insulation products such as fiberglass and cellulose. She received the Illinois Agri-Women 2003 Science Project first prize, and was a semifinalist in the Young Scientist Challenge of 2003 from the Discovery Channel. Among her many school activities are madrigals, band, jazz band, Spanish Club, Key Club and poms. She is a member of the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony where she plays violin. Anna also plays oboe and piano. She is active in the Springfield Muni Opera, church choir and dance. Anna, the daughter of David and Cory Dowling ofRochester, will attend the national symposium.

Reaching out is among the goals of Southern@150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.