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Published Wednesday May 15, 2024

Meet the Winners of Arizona JSHS 2024

JSHS is a national competition promoting original research and experimentation in science, technology, engineering, and math at the high school level. These students present their research to a panel of judges and symposium attendees in a 12-minute presentation. These students work on their projects for months and the top five students attend the National JSHS and receive a University of Arizona scholarship. I got to ask this year’s Arizona Junior Science and Humanities Symposium 2024 winners some questions and these future scientists have so much to share with you and hope to inspire future generations.

I asked 1st Place, Finnegan McGill, and 2nd Place, Julianna Serna, what would be one thing you would tell younger students who are interested in science /engineering?

Finnegan: Persevere and believe in yourself! Be curious! Ask questions! Remember, the journey matters as much as the destination. Two years ago, I went to JSHS as a spectator with my family. I sat in the audience and listened to the students present their research. I was both fascinated and insanely intimidated by the presenters’ confidence. I couldn’t even pronounce the titles of their research, and achieving what they did seemed impossible for someone like me at the time. But I didn’t give up! I kept going, believed in myself, and continued learning. I still can’t pronounce half of my fellow researcher’s project titles but look at me now — I am one of them!

Julianna: Honestly, never take no for an answer. If you have scarce resources to conduct your project, find a way to still do it. Should someone doubt your abilities or question your capacity to engineer a project with global impact due to age or perceived limitations, press forward regardless. The key is that you believe in it and in your capacity to complete it! When fueled by genuine passion and dedication, no obstacle should deter you from pursuing what you love.

These students put so much work and dedication into these projects and it isn’t always easy for them either. I asked them, while working on your project for JSHS, what was one of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome and how did you overcome it?

Finnegan: There were so many big challenges that I faced. Creating A-BiRD was a tough journey filled with technical issues and handling lots of data. I had to learn the necessary advanced math and coding from scratch, troubleshoot problems quickly, and refine the system to detect bird sounds in natural places without recording other sounds such as people, cars, wind, and other ambient noises. I felt like giving up many times, but I persevered and learned the importance of continuous improvement. My family and caring neighbors were key factors in overcoming the difficulties. They all believed in me and my ideas and helped me through tough times. They always cheered me on and asked good questions that made me think further. Their support meant everything to me.

Julianna: I conducted my research at school under the guidance of my biology professor. While we lacked access to the most optimal materials and equipment for the project, we still managed to successfully conduct the project with the resources at our disposal. This experience reinforced my belief that one doesn’t necessarily need a state-of-the-art laboratory to tackle global issues. There’s always a way forward, even with limited resources!

I also got to ask 3rd Place Sohini Mallick and 5th Place Caleb Liu questions. I asked them, what is one of your earliest memories that shaped your interest in science/engineering?

Sohini: My interest in science initially rose from my parents’ work in microbiology and cancer. However, I’ve always had a profound interest in nature, especially plants, and even wanted to be a botanist when I was young.

Caleb: My earliest memory that sparked my interest in science and engineering was going to the Arizona Science Center when I was around 5. The interactive exhibits were super fun and made me want to go back even if it was rather far from my house. Each demonstration done by the “blue crew” also expanded my interest in all STEM fields. The most impactful exhibit by far was the one that allowed me to code Scratch games (I didn’t know you could access the website from any device yet), which sparked my interest in computer science. Now, I go back to the science center to volunteer so that other kids can have similar experiences as me.

I asked Sohini and Caleb about their projects and how they would describe their JSHS project to someone who does not have a science background.

Sohini: Using neon fluorescent trackers, which, when viewed under a microscope, display expressions of a protein based on the intensity of the fluorescence, I studied how a specific protein, p53, functions within a group of cells from the intestine, help to form a barrier against unwanted microorganisms in the human body. One of my biggest challenges was trying to develop a protein tracker for p53, which has never been done before. It took a lot of trial and error, and even restarting the whole process, but about 4-5 months later, I was able to finally create an effective model for the rest of the experiment.

Caleb: My JSHS project is simply trying to study and improve self-driving cars. Current self-driving cars work well in ideal conditions, in sunny clear weather. We study how the camera on the car fails to detect pedestrians in bad weather conditions, and how some people of different demographic groups are negatively impacted by the failure more than other demographics.

These students are our future scientists and cannot wait to see the work they do in the future. Congratulations to the winners of Arizona JSHS 2024!