Two Flintridge Prep Seniors’ STEM Research Recognized By The Society For Science
Flintridge Preparatory School students Aaron Lee ’22 and Ashwin Sivakumar ’22 were named top high school scientists by the Society for Science, as part of the organization’s Regeneron Science Talent Search program.
Lee and Sivakumar are two of the 300 high school seniors from across the globe awarded $2,000 each for their original scientific research and promising futures in STEM. An additional $4,000 will go to support Flintridge Prep’s STEM-related activities.
One of the oldest science and math competitions for high school seniors, the Regeneron Science Talent Search identifies “the most promising young scientists who are creating the ideas that could solve society’s most urgent challenges,” the organization wrote in their January 6 press release. Over 1,800 students competed this year.
Sivakumar’s research centers on the relationship between the extinct native California turkey species and its closely related non-native species, the wild turkey, which is now common in the state.
“Some biologists proposed that we could resurrect the roles of extinct species in ecosystems by introducing closely-related surviving species,” Sivakumar, an avid birder who has researched wild turkey ecology for the past two years, says. “However, this idea—called ‘taxon substitution’—has never been intentionally tested on a large scale.”
Spurred by his curiosity into the potentially accidental taxon substitution of the wild turkey after the extinction of the California turkey during the Ice Age, Sivakumar used fossil data and species distribution to hypothesize where California turkeys might exist today and compared it to the present-day wild turkey range.
“I found that the habitat ranges for the two species match very closely, suggesting that the wild turkey may indeed be fulfilling its extinct relative’s ecological role,” Sivakumar, who is also the recipient of the 2021 Davidson Institute Fellowship for his California avifauna research, notes. “California wildlife managers should consider the species’ yet-unassessed positive environmental functions, and taxon substitution should be further investigated as a potential conservation technique.”
Lee’s research project focuses on faster detection of strokes. “For the past two years, I worked on a software to automatically detect the onset of a stroke,” Lee says. “Because many people aren’t aware or can’t recognize specific stroke symptoms, they don’t receive the intervention they need.”
Lee explains that stroke signs like sudden confusion, lack of coordination, or blurred vision are often mistaken for migraines or low blood sugar. “Less than a quarter of all acute, ischemic stroke patients are transported to the hospital within three hours of presenting symptoms, potentially leading to lifelong paralysis or death,” he says.
Using machine learning, Lee’s research led to an easily accessible mobile app that can assess patients before they’re admitted to a hospital, looking for the three key symptoms of facial droop, arm weakness, and slurred speech. “The program is available on a beta version of a [mobile] app called STROKEFAST, using the camera, microphone, and an accelerometer to evaluate an individual,” Lee says, noting how these tools are found on most phones. “The app is able to identify the onset of a stroke outside a hospital and facilitate transportation to the stroke center for intervention.”
“Aaron and Ashwin have shown incredible dedication to their projects, and I’m excited that Regeneron and the Society of Science have recognized their accomplishments,” Science Department Chair Laura Kaufman says. “They both show that there’s no need to wait until graduation to begin pursuing passions and making discoveries. We are so proud that Aaron and Ashwin are using their scientific skills to make the world a better place.”
Flintridge Preparatory School, 4543 Crown Ave., La Cañada Flintridge, (818) 790-1178 or visit www.flintridgeprep.org.