2010 Magnet Research Convention

by Xinyi Zhou '10

At the 2010 Magnet Research Convention, Magnet seniors presented their research projects, officially wrapping up the year-long Senior Research Project (SRP) process that started second semester junior year. This year's 18th annual convention was held the evening of April 8th, 2010. The agenda included judging and awards thanks to the Washington Academy of Sciences (WAS), a poster session open to parents and mentors, a speech by guest speaker and Blair Magnet alumna Sarah Peitzmeier, and the presentation of awards and the Dr. Vaccaro scholarship.


The Washington Academy of Sciences (WAS) was founded in 1898 with the mission of bringing together local scientific societies to encourage the advancement of science. Today, there are over 60 affiliates of WAS. Each year, as part of their Science & Technology Aptitude Recognition in School (STARS) program, the organization sends judges to the Magnet Research Convention to listen to each student give a short presentation about their research project. This year, close to 30 scientists volunteered their time to be judges. Although students were nervous about the prospect of being judged, student researcher Siyuan Cao summed up many other students' thoughts in calling the judging and poster session “very professional.” Considering that nearly 30 students received awards, the judges were equally impressed by the professionalism of our Magnet students. The following students received awards from WAS:

Honorable Mentions: Stephen Carlson, Wei Gao, Peter Gu, Jacob Hurwitz, Cindy Sui, Eric Van Albert, Chenyu Zhao, Jenny Zhang

Galileo Award for Excellence: Siyuan Cao, Sophia Deng, Diana Jing, Vicky Lai, Li Ma, Urja Mittal, Melissa Truong, Amy Xiao

Isaac Newton Award for Outstanding Projects: Allison Arai, Nader Behdin, Angela Choi, Roger Curley, Dzi Do, Julia Huynh, Yifan Li, Nils Molina, Andie Ng, Anand Oza, Rohan Puttagunta, Eric Wan, Dalton Wu

Inspiring Speeches

Both the designated guest speaker and the WAS's judging coordinator gave speeches encouraging students to continue their work in the sciences.

Paul Hazen, vice president of the WAS Junior Academy, was responsible for coordinating the judging this year; he centered his speech on how “high-tech is not really a product [as much as] a frontier, a moving frontier.” Peppering his speech with a little humor, he pointed out the classic example of the wheel helping humans with “schlepping your stuff up the mountain,” thus being at the cutting edge of its day. Hazen told students, “where the high-tech is, is up to people... up to you.”

In contrast, guest speaker Sarah Peitzmeier brought a Magnet alumna's perspective to her speech. Currently a graduating senior at the University of Maryland College Park, Peitzmeier has found that research has “become a really huge part of [her] life” since completing her own senior research project in 2006. Her work on the role of milk proteins in modeling autoimmune diseases gave her opportunities to work abroad at the University of Glasgow and earned her a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater scholarship. Peitzmeier was modest in her speech, telling seniors about how Mr. Pham called her chemistry Research & Experiment project many years ago “fundamentally flawed.” She went on to speak about how not only the curriculum, but also the environment in the Magnet influenced her. To her, the defining characteristic of Magnet students was “insatiable curiosity,” and she told students to “keep that curiosity with you; the willingness to go out in a limb.”

Dr. Vaccaro Scholarship

The Dr. Vaccaro scholarship was created in honor of Dr. Michael Vaccaro, who helped establish links with local research institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland College Park in the early days of the Magnet program, allowing students to have research institutions off campus. This year, the scholarship was presented to Emily Jones and Urja Mittal for embodying the research spirit. Emily Jones' project, “Western Blot Semi-Quantitative Analysis of Non-Canonical cAMP-Dependent Protein Expression Induced by PACAP,” was completed under the auspices of Dr. Lee Eiden at NIMH, while Urja Mittal's project, “Evaluating the Efficiency of Mangasarian's Newton Method” was completed under Dianne O'Leary at the University of Maryland. Both students received excellent reviews from their mentors and persevered through their challenges.

A “Great Wrap-Up”

The Magnet Research Convention is a culmination of not only the Senior Research Projects but also the four years in the Magnet program, where students learn to stretch the ways they think and bolster their knowledge in the fields that they eventually work in. Even though the school year was not over yet, students and teachers felt a sense of nostalgia as the night ended, especially when Mr. Templin and Mr. Kaluta presented a slideshow from the last four years, sparking laughter as students again saw their trebuchets from 9th grade or their mud-covered faces from the 10th grade Wallops trip. Kristen Rosano called the evening “a great wrap-up to the SRP experience” and liked “having a lot of mentors and parents come to see our research projects.” As the seniors have wrapped up their high school years and look to the future, they can remember Sarah Peitzmeier words: “the world is just a really interesting place.”