Magnet Seniors win at the 2010 Siemens Competition

by Mythili Mandadi '11

Setra (left) and Pinkerton (right)
Two Magnet Seniors, Rafael Setra and James Pinkerton won third place at the National Finals of the 2010 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for their research project, Duplicator-Spoiler Game for an Ordinal Number of Turns.  They were the first Blair students in the 12-year history of the Siemens Competition to compete in the national finals, and they will split $46,000 in scholarship money.

Siemens Semifinalists

Four Magnet seniors were also named semifinalists in the 2010 Siemens Competition.  Andrew Das Sarma, Shilpa Kannan, Nilay Kumar, and Winston Liu each received an Apple TV and other goodies along with their award.

Das Sarma completed his project as part of the RSI program at MIT.  Although he had to scrap his initial project halfway through the summer, he developed a new project studying the relationship between electronic and structural transitions in his Nanoscale Study of Structural and Electronic Transitions in Vanadium Dioxide.

Kannan spent the summer at the glycobiology lab of Stony Brook University. Her project, Identification of Essential Structures for Glycosylation of Cysteine-Rich Protein Motifs, investigated the mechanism by which fucose is added to proteins to determine which sites are more conducive to fucosylation.

Kumar spent the summer at the University of Maryland Physics Department.  His project, Low Density Nuclear Matter in the Large Nc and Heavy Quark Limits, examined quantum chromodynamics under certain conditions to analyze low density infinite nuclear matter.

Liu was the first Blair magnet student to intern at the Geophysical Lab of the Carnegie Institute of Washington. His project, Ethane-Hydrogen systems under pressure, deals with the use of ethane as a replacement of fossil fuels.
Setra and Pinkerton project compares the properties of structures in mathematical languages of logic.  The team investigated Duplicator-Spoiler Games, which are a method of comparing the properties of structures.  While these games are traditionally played with a preset, finite number of turns, Setra and Pinkerton considered games of arbitrary lengths using ordinal notation.  They created a system of turns based around the ordinals that could analyze structures with an undetermined numbers of turns. 

A record 1,372 projects were submitted to the Siemens Competition this year. 312 of which were selected as semifinalists; four Magnet papers were semifinalists. 94 projects were selected as regional finalists in six regions, and Setra and Pinkerton were the only ones representing Maryland.  They won first place at the regional competition held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in November, and they were one of six teams that were invited to the National Finals held at George Washington University in early December.

When Setra and Pinkerton were named Regional Finalists in October, they earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Boston, where they presented their projects to a panel of MIT professors and answered questions from students and the media.  They were honored guests at the Siemens social, a formal dinner with the other regional finalists, MIT faculty, and other science and technology celebrities. 

Setra and Pinkerton were selected as the top team in Region Five, winning a $6,000 scholarship and a spot in the National Finals.  Competition Judge Dr. Haynes Miller, Professor Mathematics at MIT, said: “This team has made a striking extension of a game-theoretic interpretation of descriptive logic that dates back to the 1960s.”  Miller lauded Setra and Pinkerton. “What impressed me about these students was their clarity of thought," he said. "It’s a very confusing subject to work in and they found their way through it to a new frontier.”

Setra and Pinkerton presented their project to another distinguished panel at the National Finals at George Washington University and had a chance to see the other regional winners.  “I really enjoyed seeing the other eleven projects and meeting the other students." Setra said.

Pinkerton credited the magnet program for their success: "The Blair culture of encouraging student research is outstanding. Most freshmen cannot imagine researching mathematics or science for an entire summer. However, after just three years in the magnet, they are eager to explore their passions in a world of their own, to push themselves in ways they never thought possible.”

In addition to the Siemens Competition, Setra and Pinkerton also entered the Yau Mathematics competition along with another Magnet senior, Daniel Farias.   They were named semifinalists and traveled to Los Angeles in mid-November to present their project.  They were not selected as finalists in the Yau competition, which would have sent them to China, but Pinkerton is hoping for another chance to present their project overseas when their mentor, Professor William Gasarch of the University of Maryland, travels to a math conference in Italy this summer.

Dr. Gasarch reminds his interns that “his highest concern is that we learn as much math as possible,” but he is not complaining about the prizes. In a smooth arrangement, his interns owe him one lunch for every $1,000 they win.  If he holds his interns to the deal, Setra and Pinkerton will owe him meals for a month-and-a-half.

Read their paper here: (pdf)
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