Published : Monday, February 15, 2016 | 2:33 PM
Seniors Vick Liu ’16 and Masato Nakano ’16 have a four-year history of earning recognition for their scientific research. Most recently, they were both named semifinalists of the 75th annual Intel Science Talent Search, a program of Society for Science & the Public. Three-hundred semifinalists were chosen from 1,750 entrants hailing from 512 high schools in 43 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and six American and international high schools overseas.
Unlike most science fairs, the Intel Science Talent Search does not judge students on the research alone, but also on character.
“It is a unique program because it judges seniors holistically; Intel is looking for a well-rounded student involved in not just science research but also in the community and at school,” Liu says.
In addition, both scientists were recognized in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. This national competition requires high school students to submit innovative individual and team research projects to regional and national levels of competition as they vie for the top award. Liu was a Siemens semifinalist in the competition and Nakano advanced to the level of regional finalist, presenting his research to a panel of academics and scientists. He received a $1,000 scholarship.
Liu’s work has focused on blood analysis, with the ongoing development of a portable, inexpensive and easy-to-use system for blood analysis.
“I was inspired to perform this research when my friend was diagnosed with leukemia when I was a 7th grader. He skipped the rest of the school because he had to drive to the hospital or the lab almost every day in order to have his blood tested,” Liu says. “Current technology fills an entire lab, costs…hundreds of thousands of dollars and requires skilled technicians.”
Vick’s idea was to create a hand-held hematology analyzer that could turn any iPhone into a mobile blood lab. The invention earned Vick two 3rd place grand awards in the 2014 and 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fairs, the nomination to the American Junior Academy of Sciences, entrance to MicroTas 2013 and Microtas 2014, and numerous awards at the state and county science fairs.
Vick will be inducted into the American Junior Academy of Sciences in February. This academy recognition is directly related to his state science and international science fair achievements over the last four years.
Nakano’s research has to do with electron transfer, which governs all known energy-conversions in biology. He studied rapid ET along electrically conducting bacterial nanowires produced by Shewanella oneidensis MR-1. The Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 bacterium can reduce poisonous heavy metal ions and lives both in aerobic and anaerobic environments.
Nakano’s research could be significant in solving both global energy and environmental problems, because rapid ET can efficiently capture electricity and water from sewage.
“The outer-membrane cytochromes, MtrF and OmcA, are hypothesized media for ET, but how these multiheme cytochromes are assembled into a conducting complex remains a mystery. I solved this mystery by constructing an entire scientific workflow that integrates mathematical modeling, biophysics, electrochemistry, computing and entertainment technology. Specifically, I determined the structure of MtrF-OmcA complex and study ET dynamics in it by combining homology modeling, protein docking, geometrical/biological screening and kinetic Monte Carlo simulation,” Nakano says.
Masato further built an immersive visualization system using a commodity virtual-reality platform and a game engine. His immersive simulation results revealed novel nonequilibrium phase transitions with which Shewanella efficiently responded to a change in its electrochemical environment. These results shed useful light on boosting the efficiency of Shewanella-based microbial fuel cells by increasing the ET rate.
Both Liu and Nakano honed their research with the support of local scientists and Prep faculty, displaying earlier versions of their research at the school’s STEAM & Science Fair.
“Masato and Vick are outstanding scientists,” Science Department Chair Laura Kaufman says. “During their years at Prep they have both engaged in, and excelled at, professional-level research. It has been exciting to witness their progress over the years through their displays at our STEAM & Service Fair. Their work has the potential to make a tremendous positive impact on society,”
This year, the STEAM & Service Fair is February 11 and 12. Student projects will be on display to the community on Thursday, February 11 from 7:00-8:30 pm in the Crawford Family Gym before winners move on to the County and State Science Fairs.
Flintridge Preparatory School, 4543 Crown Ave., La Cañada Flintridge, (818) 790-1178 or visit www.flintridgeprep.org.