Gupta ’05 Reaches NE Finals Of Westinghouse Competition

The Earth’s atmosphere may be cleaner some day thanks to the research of one Phillips Academy Senior. Krishna Gupta ’05 was a regional finalist of the 2004 Siemens-Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science & Technology for his research on photodissociation. Photodissociation is the atmospheric molecular breakdown caused by light. Using lasers in a laboratory, Gupta examined the molecular dynamics of this process. Although he made it to the New England regional finals, he did not emerge as the first place finisher and will therefore not be advancing to the national finals. The first-place student from New England discovered two variable stars. The Siemens-Westinghouse Competition is among the nation’s most prestigious scientific research competitions. Approximately 1200 students and teams enter. All entries are read by a panel of impartial research scientists. Three hundred individuals are selected as semifinalists. The pool is then narrowed to five regional finalists. The nation is divided into six regions. All projects continuing on to the regional finalist round are reread by judges who specialize in the projects’ areas of study. The New England finals were held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this year. Those presenting in this round were required to deliver both a 12 minute oral presentation and a PowerPoint presentation. The regional finalists were then questioned by a panel of MIT professors. Siemens paid for Gupta’s father to make the trip from Chicago to Cambridge in order to attend the three-day competition. Although he did not continue on the national level, Gupta looks back upon the experience as enjoyable. “I thought I was going to be nervous, but during my presentation I remained at ease. It was a very good experience. I was privileged to meet interesting kids from across the region,” he said. Other regional finalists’ projects included studies on non-impact diabetes treatments and research of ways to slow the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. The competition awards scholarships to all regional finalists.The national first place finisher receives the grand prize of a $100,000 scholarship. Gupta first learned of the competition when a CNN anchor announced the winners of 2003’s competition. Gupta attributes his passion for chemistry to the teachings of Dean of Faculty Temba Maqubela. Mr. Maqubela was Gupta’s Chemistry 580 teacher. During the Winter and Spring Terms of his Upper year , Instructor in Chemistry Paul Cernota inspired Gupta to complete an independent project on the theory of physical chemistry. Over the summer, Gupta worked as a paid research intern at the Physical Chemistry department of the University of Chicago. While there, he joined a research team studying the affects of photodissociation on molecules in the atmosphere. Photodissociation occurs when light strikes molecules in the atmosphere. These molecules then break into smaller molecules with an odd number of electrons and thus become what are known as radicals. Gupta studied the methoxyformyl radical. When this molecule breaks up in the atmosphere it releases emissions . While at the University of Chicago, Gupta had the opportunity of working with two very unique laser apparatuses. One was equipped with a camera which took shots of the molecule fragmenting and the other had the ability to count how many radicals of the molecule were created. Gupta does not know if he will continue to study chemistry in college. “I have a lot of other interests. I plan to keep taking science courses, but I don’t think I’ll focus solely on research science,” he said.