Intel Science Talent Search Success: Blair's 9 Semifinalists

Shaun Datta worked at the University of Maryland with the Theoretical Quarks, Hadrons, and Nuclei Research Group in the Physics Department under Dr. Thomas Cohen and Prabal Adhikari, where he studied the field theory that describes the interiors of atomic nuclei is known as “Quantum Chromodynamics.” Unfortunately, the theory leads to equations that are unsolvable, and so physicists cannot use the theory to learn about the quarks on the insides of atomic nuclei. His project seeks to build an understanding of the inner-workings of atomic nuclei by simplifying the system under consideration to the limiting cases of QCD. The information gleaned can help researchers understand the inner workings of neutron stars at a mathematically rigorous level. Furthermore, the research takes physicists a step closer to accurately characterizing and understanding the most fundamental particles of matter.

by Callie Deng '14

On January 8th, 300 high school seniors from across the country were announced as semifinalists in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search (STS). Nine of the semifinalists are from the Blair Magnet Program: Alexander Bourzutchky, Shaun Datta, Neil Davey, Daniela Ganelin, Hannah He, Aanchal Johri, Jessica Shi, Huey Shih, and Gabby Studt. Each semifinalist will be awarded $1,000, and Blair will also receive $1,000 from the Intel Foundation for each semifinalist. On January 22nd, Shaun Datta, Neil Davey, and Jessica Shi were named among the top 40 finalists, and Blair's 3 finalists this year is more than any other school in the country. The students were featured in stories in the Washington Post, WTOP, and the Gazette.

These are the students' projects:

Alex Bourzutchky, New Analytical Solutions to the Time-Dependent Schrödinger Equation for the Quantum Two-Level System

Alex Bourzutchky conducted research at the University of Maryland, College Park Department of Physics with Dr. Edwin Barnes, under the auspices of Professor Sankar Das Sarma. He studied the two-level quantum system under time-dependent driving functions. A method for generating families of solutions to the key equation (namely, the time-dependent Schroedinger equation) had been developed in 2012, and this summer he explored different multi-parameter families. This research has great significance to the control of quantum bits, or qubits, as they are simply two-level quantum systems. Control of qubits, known as quantum information processing and quantum computation, is sought as it offers exponential speedup to classical computing problems.

Shaun Datta, Saturated Nuclear Matter in the Large Nc and Heavy Quark Limits of Quantum Chromodynamics (

Daniela Ganelin conducted research at the National Institutes of health under Dr. Allen Braun and Siyuan Liu. 300,000 US residents each year suffer some degree of aphasia, or loss of linguistic ability, after strokes. Many patients eventually score well on standard tests and so are considered recovered. However, some have lingering discourse-level difficulties that standard tests do not assess. These under diagnosed and undertreated problems make it very difficult for patients to live normal lives. In this project, Daniela compared speech samples of normal and “well-recovered” aphasic subjects on a word-by-word basis in order to identify words that were used significantly more by one group or the other, and the brain areas associated with these differences. The method Daniela developed could be used to create a diagnostic tool to flag patients with discourse difficulties.

Hannah He, A Software Tool to Assist Genomic N-Glycosite Prediction in Cancer Cells

Daniela Ganelin, Differences in Word Usage Patterns Between “Well- Recovered” Aphasic Patients and Control Subjects on a Picture Description Task

Neil Davey, Early Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Through the Detection of Circulating Tumor Cells Using Drop-based Microfluidics

Neil Davey worked in the laboratory of Professor David Weitz under Dr. Huidan Zhang at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where he developed a detection mechanism for Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs), the first cells that are shed from a primary tumor into the bloodstream when a cancer begins to spread. Due to the extreme rarity of CTCs in the blood, Neil employed a process known as drop-based microfluidics in which he encapsulated single cells from the blood into micron-sized emulsions and used an amplification-based fluorescence reaction to distinguish CTCs from other blood cells. The technique can be used for the early diagnosis of cancers, and results in a pure population of isolated CTCs, which can give doctors insight on the cancer's progression and plausible treatment strategies.

Research in the Magnet

Aanchal Johri, Elasticity of Q-beta Virus Capsids as Malaria Vaccine Carriers Validated via Peak-Force Atomic Force Microscopy

Hannah He worked at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute with Dr. Hui Zhang. Glycoproteomics is a new field, which studies glycosylation, the process by which glycans (sugars) attach to proteins. Recently, researchers discovered that there were certain glycan attachment patterns for different cancers. Hannah created a program that located cancer cell lines with a good coverage of gene IDs in order to obtain a good coverage of proteins. This can be applied to better understand the difference between coded proteins (theoretical proteins) and actual protein appearances.

The Blair Magnet has had a long history of success in the Science Talent Search. More than 40 Magnet students have been named Finalists, and this is the fifth time that the Magnet has had at least 3 Finalists in one year.

Huey Shih worked at the National Institutes of Health under Dr. Ji Luo and Mr. Changwoo Lee. His project aims to elucidate the cellular changes that occur in cancers in which the KRAS gene is mutated. KRAS is one of the most commonly mutated genes in all human cancers and my research led to the discovery that the cell's transcriptomic output (total RNA content) is upregulated when KRAS is mutated. The cellular context he used was the Small Airway Epithelial Cell (SAEC), which is extracted from the bronchioles in the lungs. KRAS accounts for 90% of RAS mutations in lung adenocarcinomas.

Gabby Studt, Construction of the Higher Bruhat Orders on the Weyl Group of Type B (

Gabby Studt conducted research at MIT’s Program for Research in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science under the mentorship of Daniel Thompson. She studied the Higher Bruhat order on the Weyl group of Type B, and proved a new theorem that explicitly states this order. Her project is applicable to various areas within Abstract Algebra and Combinatorics. In a nutshell, she considered all the inversions (the subsets of {1, 2,…, n} of cardinality k, but in which each element has a sign or + or -) that arise from reflections through a system of roots, and found a lexicographic order (consistent over all cases) of these subsets.

These students and other Magnet seniors will present posters of their projects at the Magnet Research Convention at Blair on the evening of February 27, 2014, which will be open to the public at 6:30pm.

Huey Shih, The Effects of Oncogenic KRAS and c-Myc on the Transcriptomic Output of the Cell: A Novel Role for a Master Oncogene

Jessica Shi conducted research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Francisco Unda, where she studied a class of graphs called intersection graphs, on various systems such as systems of parabolas, conic sections, polynomials, and rational functions. Specifically, she was interested in one of the fundamental questions of graph theory: How many graphs with a certain property exist? J. Pach and J. Solymosi obtained an upper bound on the number of intersection graphs on line segments, and J. Fox constructively obtained an essentially matching lower bound. Jessica extended these techniques to the various other families.

Jessica Shi, The Speeds of Families of Intersection Graphs (pdf)

Aanchal Johri conducted research at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health under the guidance of Dr. Albert Jin. She worked primarily on optimizing the efficacy of malaria vaccine carriers that are composed of bioengineered nanoparticle QBeta virus capsids. To accomplish this, she simulated how the nanoparticles would behave in the human body by analyzing the particles under various buffer solution concentrations and applications of force. Eventually she hopes the QBeta nanoparticles will be conjugated with the original RTS/S malaria vaccine in order to boost the vaccine's immunization efficacy rates from 40% to 80%.

In 1993, 3 Finalists from Blair finished in the Top 10. In 1996, Jacob Lurie won first place with a project on surreal numbers (pdf). In 1999, the Magnet produced a record 6 Finalists. Blair has had at least one Science Talent Search Finalist in 20 of the 25 years that Magnet seniors have entered the contest.

Research is a core part of the Blair Magnet program, and most rising seniors complete a Senior Research Project overseen by magnet teacher Angelique Bosse. The students work under the guidance of a mentor to produce original research, typically at a leading research institution of university.