UConn Health Sponsors Symposium for High School Scientists

The top five honorees from this year’s Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium earned the right to represent the state at the national symposium in April.

screen grab from virtual symposium

High School students William Bernfeld, Alexander Patti, Alexa Nakanishi, Ambika Grover, and Kenneth Choi are Connecticut's representatives at the April 2021 National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. (Image from Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, held virtually March 6, 2021)

Five Connecticut high school students will represent the state at a national STEM symposium this spring after taking top honors in the Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (CT-JSHS), sponsored by UConn Health and organized by the Connecticut Area Health Education Center.

The 58th annual symposium, which for the last several years had been held at UConn Health, was virtual this year. Organizers selected 31 of the student CT-JSHS applicants to present their research findings to a panel of judges and an audience of their peers via web conference March 6.

“Scientists, engineers, and other STEM professionals and faculty often say how impressed they are by the high level of student achievement shown in this original research,” says Joy Erickson, director of the CT-JSHS program. “I’m excited to see these outstanding students represent our state at the national symposium next month.”

Among the 15 students who gave oral presentations of their original research in the science, technology, engineering or math fields, four were honored:

1st Place: Ambika Grover, sophomore, Greenwich High School, for her research on “Rapid, Noninvasive, Fluorescence-based Detection for Elevated Levels of Nitric Oxide in Exhaled Breath, as a Marker for Hazardous PM2.5 Exposure.”

2nd Place: Alexa Nakanishi, junior, Greenwich High School, for her research on “Multi-component Fixation Tracking in Gaze Interaction for Rapid, Non-invasive Diagnosis of Specific Learning Disorders.” As the top-ranked junior, she also was awarded the UConn Academic Excellence Scholarship.

3rd Place: Kenneth Choi, senior, Ridgefield High School, for his research on “Constructing General Hamiltonian Ground States on a Quantum Computer Using the Projected Cooling Sensor Algorithm.”

4th Place: William Bernfeld, junior, King School, Stamford, for his research on “Non-canonical Base Pairing in Self-assembling DNA Crystals.”

Joining them at the National JSHS, to be held virtually April 14-17, will be the top honoree among the 16 students who presented their research in poster format:

1st Place: Alexander Patti, senior, Greenwich High School, for his poster presentation on “Plant Growth Enhancement & Fungal Disease Suppression via Copper, Zinc, and Manganese Nanoparticle Foliar Sprays.”

The following students earned honorable mentions:

2nd Place Poster Presenter: Abby Barnett, junior, Sacred Heart Greenwich

3rd Place Poster Presenter: Ryan Kim, sophomore, Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford

5th Place Oral Presenter: Sofia Pronina, senior, Greenwich High School

6th Place Oral Presenter: Eesha Acharya, senior, Amity Regional High School, Woodbridge

7th Place Oral Presenter: Ethan Lavi, senior, Amity Regional High School, Woodbridge

8th Place Oral Presenter: Hannah E. MacDonald, senior, Greens Farms Academy, Westport

Additionally, Sienna Matregrano, a senior at Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science & Technology Education Center, and Alexis S. Ogrinz, a junior at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, won Backyard Scientist Awards. This honor goes to students who may not have had access to summer research programs or professional labs, but made creative use of resources “in their own backyards.”

National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, Connecticut Science Supervisors Association, the Connecticut Science Teachers Association, and the UConn Office of Undergraduate Admissions provided the cash and scholarship awards.

CT-JSHS is sponsored by UConn Health and Connecticut Area Health Education Center (CT AHEC), under contract with the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA). The Connecticut symposium is part of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force Junior Science and Humanities Symposia Program.

—Ellen Ravens-Seger