Remember back in high school when we had to brainstorm and then craft up something for the science fair? Those days are revisited in the Sundance- and SXSW-winning documentary Science Fair—only things are a little more intense because the nine featured high school students are competing at The International Science and Engineering Fair, “the largest pre-college scientific research event in the world.” Not only does the film capture the highs and lows that come with participating in such an impressive competition, but also the rivalries, setbacks, and of course, typical teenage hormones.

On Friday, November 9th at 7pm, join us for special presentations by three Hawai‘i student scientists who participated in ISEF in Los Angeles in 2018: Cindy Tsou, a senior from Mililani High School; Benjamin Weiss, a senior from Kalaheo High School (who competed with his sister, Kaitlynn, although she will not be attending our event) and Samuel Cadotte, a senior from Kalaheo High School. They will share their science fair projects, which received awards at ISEF, before the screening of Science Fair at 7:30pm.

HoMA got in contact with the three students to learn more about the inspiration behind their projects and what they have in mind for the future.

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Tell me a little bit about your project and the inspiration behind it.

Tsou: My project is on enhancing algal bioremediation using nanoparticles as an optical nano-filter for light. The inspiration for this project came after I learned about algal bioremediation; algae has the ability to clean wastewater and make useful biofuels at the same time. Current wastewater treatments are complex, costly and lead to secondary pollution. Algal bioremediation is a viable alternative to removing toxic organic compounds from wastewater while producing valuable biomass. However, excess light can result in radiation damage and toxic stress through the accumulation of reactive oxygen species. I designed a photobioreactor system and placed colloidal nanoparticles around culture flasks to increase the formation of photopigments by the backscattering of light in spectral regions favorable for growth.

Weiss: Our project supported the idea that meditation is a viable treatment for the inability to recognize facial expressions by those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.

Cadotte: The inspiration for all my projects is to use technology to help people. My last project consisted of a device equipped with different sensors (Sonar, LIDAR, infrared) that can “see” someone’s surroundings and can provide audible feedback about obstacles.  The sensors were installed in a tube similar to a white cane which purpose was to help blind or visually impaired people navigate in unfamiliar environments..

How was participating in the ISEF?

Tsou: ISEF was an amazing experience. The conference halls were filled with intellectually curious individuals from all over the world. I was inspired by the people there and the projects that shined a light into the unknown. Listening to others present is inspiring; we feed off of each other’s excitement. Everyone there was eager to conduct research, answer burning questions, and solve important issues in their community. It was truly an eye-opening experience.

WeissBeing able to participate at ISEF has been one of, if not the greatest experiences of my life. I have been able to meet not just some of the current leaders in different fields of research, but the very people who will shape the future. ISEF has developed my character more than any other event I have taken part in. It has shown what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, and the kind of people I want to surround myself with. 

Cadotte: I love competing in science fairs and ISEF was amazing.  I get to make new friends, gain inspiration from other projects and compete with the best in the world.   Going to ISEF is inspiring and makes me want to do a better project each year.

What do you hope to be when you are older?

Tsou: I hope to be a biomedical engineer. It is a little more satisfying to me than quenching my intellectual and scientific curiosity. I wish to study engineering to apply my knowledge in projects that could help improve people’s’ lives.

WeissI would like to enter the field of mathematics and eventually become a professor. I am also interested in becoming a clinical psychologist. 

CadotteI love electronics and computers and want to be an engineer. 

Who is someone who inspires you?

Tsou: My mom. She taught me to believe in myself, chase after my dreams, and to never give up.

Weiss: Actually, the friends I have made through the science fair are the first people that come to mind. They all have such a passion for their respective fields of interest and are all bound to a path of greatness. I feel honored to have met these people and feel that the interactions we’ve had have encouraged me to expand my hopes for the future. 

Cadotte: My dad is my inspiration, he taught me how to learn and figure things out by myself and is always there to guide me when I have to solve difficult challenges. He taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to.

Featured image, from left to right: Cindy Tsou, Benjamin Weiss, Samuel Cadotte.