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2011 Symposium Summary

Download the 2011 Program Booklet

High School Students across the State Compete in STEM Research Symposium at UT

More than fifty students and teachers representing fifteen high schools from across the state were invited to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in late February for the forty-sixth annual Tennessee Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Fifteen students presented original research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines as they competed for college scholarships.

The symposium spanned two days, February 24 and 25, and consisted of student oral research presentations judged by a panel of UT faculty and tours of various research laboratories at UT Knoxville and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Students interacted with world-renowned researchers, including Gary Sayler, Beaman Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and director of the UT Center for Environmental Biotechnology. Sayler gave the keynote presentation on his research of environmental sensing with engineered bioluminescent organisms.

This year’s symposium also featured, for the first time, a teacher professional development workshop focused on mentoring student research. The workshop “Mentoring Students’ Original Research,” was led by Jennifer Dye, an award-winning high school science teacher and author of Investigating Science: A guide to conducting independent high school student research (Linus Publications, 2010). The fifteen teacher workshop participants received a copy of the book for their classroom use.

Also new this year was a Scientific and Educational exhibit which was staffed by representatives of
research laboratories, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments.

TJSHS participants spent time visiting the exhibits and asking questions about the research and educational programs. Another new component of the 2011 program was a social and recreational session for student participants to provide an opportunity for their informal interaction. Students spent time in UT’s “Down Under” Recreational Room where they enjoyed refreshments bowling, table tennis, billiards, and other activities.

Award Winners

2011 Awards Winners

(From left) First-place winner, Gloria D’Azevedo; second-place winner, John Bollenbacher; third-place winner, Bowei Deng; honorable mentions, Kevin Clavin and Andrea Tipton; and Teacher Winner, Jennifer Dye.

A total of $4,500 was awarded in scholarships to the top three student presenters. Gloria D’Azevedo, a senior at Oak Ridge High School, took first place and a $2,000 scholarship with her presentation, “A Study of Elimination Orderings and Their Relevance to Treewidth in Graph Theory.”

John Bollenbacher, a junior at Webb School of Knoxville, won second place and a $1,500 scholarship with his presentation, “On the Motion of a Projectile.” Bowei Deng, a junior at White Station High School, received third place and a $1,000 scholarship with his presentation, “Thalamic Atrophy in R6/2 Huntington’s Disease Transgenic Mice: A Stereological Study.”

Kevin Clavinof Pope John Paul II High School and Andrea Tipton of Cleveland High School received honorable mentions. Jennifer Dye of Pope John Paul II High School received the 2011 Teacher Mentor Award for her extraordinary contribution to mentoring high school students in their original research.

The five student award winners represented Tennessee at the National JSHS in San Diego, California, April 27–May 1, with the top two winners (Glorida D’Azevedo and John Bollenbacher) competing against students from forty-eight states for additional scholarships. Glorida D’Azevedo, first-place winner in Tennessee, won third place in the national competition.

Research Abstracts of Top Three Student Award Winners

FIRST PLACE

Research Abstract: A Study of Elimination Orderings and Their Relevance to Treewidth in Graph Theory
Student: Gloria D’Azevedo
School: Oak Ridge High School, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Teacher: Tammy Carneim

The contribution of this paper is to explore the performance of different heuristic algorithms for a difficult problem from graph theory. This problem is how to calculate a low-width tree decomposition of a graph. Simply put, the lower the width of a tree decomposition, the easier it is to use the decomposition to calculate other properties of the graph. More specifically, the computational complexity for solving many graph algorithm depends exponentially on the treewidth, but can be linear in the size of the graph. Unfortunately, the task of finding the optimal decomposition falls into the class of NP-Hard problems, and so heuristics are necessary for generating “good” tree decompositions. Typical algorithms for low-width tree decompositions consider the number of neighbors of a node and certain properties of these neighbors, such as the number of neighbors that are also connected. We attempt to incorporate such information into new heuristics and compare their performance by running them on a set of test graphs. The decomposition algorithms presented here seem to be effective in reducing the treewidth, and have the potential to reduce the complexity of several graph problems and to run more efficiently.

SECOND PLACE

Research Abstract Title: “On the Motion of a Projectile.”
Student: John Bollenbacher
School: Webb School of Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee
Teacher Mentor: Bob Brown

This report concerns the documentation of the process by which equations of motion to describe the motion of a projectile within the troposphere were obtained. Through several steps, a set of equations and computer simulations were eventually achieved that would describe the effects of gravity, fluid resistance, variable altitude effects, and the earth’s rotation on the motion of a projectile. Although several simplifying assumptions were made, the equations are fully accurate within the troposphere, and reasonably so without. These equations could be used for such application as ballistics. With minimal modification (i.e. to include continuing acceleration), they could also be used to launch a rocket into orbit. Finally, a short experiment that would demonstrate the application of the equations through computation integration and confirm some of my equations experimentally was performed. This experiment proved the portion the equations describing air resistance correct, but was not on a large enough scale to account for other factors.

THIRD PLACE

Research Abstract: Thalamic Atrophy in R6/2 Huntington’s Disease Transgenic Mice: A Stereological Study
Student: Bowei Deng
School: White Station High School, Memphis, Tennessee
Teacher: Angel Perkins

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant progressive neurological disorder characterized by cognitive decline, progressive chorea, and psychiatric caudate nucleus and the putamen experience heavy atrophy and loss of neurons. There is no effective treatment or cure for Huntington’s disease as of now. The HD mutation results in the expansion of a polyglutamine tract in a large 350kDa protein (huntingtin) of unknown function (Huntington disease Collaborative Research Group, 1993). A number of transgenic HD animal models have been developed in mice, and even in primates. The R6/2 line was the first transgenic mouse model and has an N-terminal fragment of huntingtin with ~150 CAG repeats in exon 1 (Mangiarini et al, 1996). The R6/2 model exhibits a progressive HD-like phenotype, with a life span about 4 months. R6/2 transgenic mouse has been widely employed as a Huntington’s disease model because of the fast development of the HD-like symptoms in this model. Previous studies have found that R6/2 mouse brain exhibited shrinkage of the striatum and enlargement of ventricles in telencephalon (Reiner et al., 2007; Stack et al., 2005). Recently, thalamic atrophy has also been found in human HD cases by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (Feigin et al., 2007; Hobbs et al., 2010). Neuronal loss was found in mediodorsal and parafascicular thalamic nucleus (PFN) in later stages of HD (Heinsen et al., 1996; 1999). In the present study, the forebrain (comprising of telencephalon and diencephalon) and cortex, striatum, thalamus, as well as globus pallidus externa (GPe), lateral ventricles (LV), and septum were measured using stereological methods in the R6/2 and wildtype (WT) mice. We found that the forebrain, cerebral cortex, striatum and thalamus showed a 21%, 21%, 28%, and 31% decrease in volume respectively. Furthermore, volume and total neuron number changes in PFN were studied in R6/2 and WT mice. A 33% PFN atrophy was detected in R6/2 mice. Cell counting revealed that about 31% neuron loss was found in 10 weeks-old R6/2 mice, indicating severe neurodegeneration in thalamus. Our results suggested that R6/2 neuropathology is very similar to that of HD. Atrophy of cortex, striatum and thalamus in R6/2 mice may explain their abnormalities in cognition and movement and thus a good model for HD.

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