Tennessee's regional finalists head to Georgia Tech in Atlanta Thursday for the Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. They are all seniors at Oak Ridge High School.
First came the research, analysis, and writing.
"They worked 40 hours a week at least at the lab over the summer," Karl Flatau said. The teacher at ORHS is one of three faculty advisors for students in the Siemens Competition.
The lab they worked at is Oak Ridge National Lab.
"We really couldn't do it without the support of the mentors at ORNL," Flatau said.
This week they've been rehearsing the research presentations they'll give in Atlanta this weekend.
"This is our novel algorithm for helping to file the SEQUEST results," Grace Prazniak said, pointing to a poster she and her research partner Ryan Liu created.
"Here we explain one of the important tools we used in our project called tandem mass spectrometry," Liu explained.
The research itself was challenging, the students said. But boiling it down to a poster and a slideshow presentation is challenging as well.
"We know what we want to say, and we know more than we're actually allowed to say because we only have 12 minutes to present," Prazniak said.
Oak Ridge High School seniors have advanced to regionals 5 years in a row.
"The Siemens Competition is the most prestigious science and technology competition in the country," Flatau said. "For our students to make it to the regional finals is a huge honor."
The school has two semi-finalists this year: Lindsey Lee and Ruoke Yang. The school has four regional finalists: Ryan Liu, Grace Prazniak, Jonathan Bryan, and Linus Liang.
"When I was a freshman, there was a team from our school that won the national competition," Prazniak said.
Banners in the school hallway celebrate those accomplishments, a sign that Oak Ridge is a high school that embraces math and science. Liu calls the atmosphere at the school "amazing" for science and math projects.
As for the competition in Atlanta, Liu said, "We're not really feeling the pressure to win. We're just trying to do our best, I think, and we're hoping for the best."
Their project is sophisticated. Liu tried to simplify it for a reporter: "We're using computational methods to find new proteins and to fix existing proteins in the poplar tree."
He said part of their research could have real-world applications.
"This could be applied to medical diagnosis with diseases related to proteins," Liu said.
The student team of Jonathan Bryan and Linus Liang used computer technology to research ways to improve energy storage efficiency. Their project could have a real world application with batteries.
Winners Saturday will advance to the finals in New York next month to compete for $100,000 in college scholarships.
Find out more at http://www.siemens-foundation.org/en/competition.htm .