Central Texas students win big at international science fair

May 22, 2019

Three Central Texas students who excelled in February at the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival were recognized in global competition. The students, who won Best of Fair at the Austin festival, advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix, which concluded May 17.

Jack Delli-Santi, who attends Lake Travis High School, placed second in Earth and Environmental Sciences for his project researching a food additive that may help safely bring the spread of the invasive Zebra Mussels under control.

Sindhuja Uppuluri, from Westwood High School, placed fourth in Animal Sciences for her project testing Milk Thistle and Indian Snake Root on roundworms to better understand their role in a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s. This was Sindhuja’s second year to place at ISEF.

Additionally, Camille Chiu, a student at College Station High School, won an Honorable Mention from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Camille, using radio telescope and satellite data, did some calculations on the Milky Way galaxy rotation. Her findings support a previous theory that there may not be as much dark matter in the Milky Way as scientists previously predicted.

Jack described ISEF as the best week of his life and said, “The best parts were the friends, connections and grit I developed throughout the week. I'm so thankful I had the privilege to experience this life-changing fair the year before I leave for college and cannot wait to see where science leads me next. Think beyond.”

Sindhuja, who also placed fourth last year at ISEF, said she never thought she would be lucky enough to experience the fair twice.

“Spending just six days in Phoenix allowed me to gain lifelong friendships and memories that I will cherish for many years to come,” Sindhuja said. “The intellectual curiosity present in that convention center was truly infectious and humbling. Seeing the brilliant minds that will no doubt soon change the world gave me the inspiration to continue through my journey in science…presenting my work to amazing judges and leaders in science showed me that there is an entire network of ISEF supporters that are willing to guide the next generation of scientists. Only at a place like ISEF can a 17 year-old have the chance to meet some of the world's greatest scientists like Dr. Martin Chalfie or Dr. Feng Zhang. I will always be grateful for this opportunity and am truly forever changed.”

Camille shared enthusiasm for the science fair. “It was inspiring not only to talk to people who were insanely knowledgeable in my field of astronomy, but also to learn from others who were experts in fields ranging from animal sciences to energy,” she said.

The Intel event is the world’s largest pre-collegiate science fair. More than 1,800 students from 80 countries competed for more than 300 awards from organizations, universities and government agencies as well as Grand Awards in 22 science categories. Approximately 30 percent of attending students are awarded prizes. Next year’s fair will be held in Anaheim, CA.

“For more than 120 years, Austin Energy has hired engineers and scientists from Central Texas, so supporting technology education is second nature to us,” said Jackie Sargent, General Manager of Austin Energy, the City of Austin’s electric utility. “It is gratifying to see our students do so well at the international level.”

Austin Energy is the main sponsor of the regional fest and organizes the event to promote science, technology, engineering and math education and to encourage students to pursue careers in these fields. The local fair is supported by the Austin Science Education Foundation, which raises funds and recruits judges and volunteers.

The Austin Energy Regional Science Festival (AERSF) is affiliated with Intel ISEF and abides by its rules and regulations, which ensure that all projects are done safely and ethically and that the experiment can be reproduced, i.e. results verified; this prepares students who chose a science major and later a career in science, for work in university labs and research facilities which all follow the same guidelines.

Each affiliated regional, state and national fair can select Best of Fair projects that advance to the international competition. Projects can be done by an individual student or by a team with up to three members and are selected from the first place winners in all science categories.

This year, Austin area judges chose five individual projects and one team project from five different Central Texas school districts and one charter school to advance to Intel ISEF. The students’ projects are in Animal Sciences, Biochemistry, Biomedical & Health Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Energy and Physics & Astronomy. Additionally, one more student from the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival, in the category of Plant Sciences, was selected at the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair as an Intel ISEF Finalist and traveled with the Austin group. Students were accompanied by a teacher from their school. They met peers from around the world, had a chance to explain their projects to subject matter experts in their fields and listened to a panel discussion by Nobel Laureates. Having participated in Intel ISEF will enhance their college applications, even if they do not win any awards. Throughout the week, their achievements were celebrated and they were encouraged to pursue their interest in science, math and engineering.

"ISEF was more than I ever imagined,” said Lake Travis High School instructor Kallie Nichols. “We left inspired, motivated, and with new friends! I hope with every cell in my body that I will be able to return someday.”

Christin Angirasa, who teaches science in Round Rock ISD, agreed. “ISEF was one of the most memorable experiences of my teaching career,” Christin said. “In a few short days, I was able to learn so much and develop lasting friendships alongside some pretty spectacular students who undoubtedly have the intellect and skills to change the world. I will forever be grateful to have attended ISEF 2019 and to have had the opportunity to learn how to better serve my science fair students in the future.”

ISEF student winners
Left to Right: Lake Travis High School teacher Kallie Nichols, Lake Travis High School student Jack Delli-Santi, Westwood High School student Sindhuja Uppuluri, and Westwood High School teacher Christin Angirasa.

Camille Chiu and teacher
Left to right: College Station High School teacher Casey Akin and College Station High School student Camille Chiu.

Last Updated: 5/31/19

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