PA Students Win Gold Medals at Intl. Science Competition

From a term to two years of independent research, Valeria Fedyk ’10, Tony Feng ’09, Scott Fleming ’10 and Arun Saigal ’09 have studied topics in math and science ranging from combinatorics to binary star systems. The PA students, the sole team representing the United States, won four gold medals at the International Conference of Young Scientists (ICYS) for research in the fields of mathematics, ecology and physics on April 27. Approximately 110 student-researchers from around the world participated in the conference. At the conference, team members relayed their findings to a panel of judges in a 10-minute presentation, which was followed by a question and answer sessions from the judges. Fleming said, “We did have a big advantage, because everyone had to present in English, and being the only ones who could speak fluent English helped.” The conference took place in Pszczyna, Poland from April 25 to 26, and the awards ceremony was held on April 27. The conference consisted of four categories: mathematics, computer science, ecology and physics. Five gold medals were awarded in each category, according to Donald Barry, Instructor in Mathematics, and the team’s faculty advisor. Feng’s research was in the mathematics category where he submitted a project titled “Combinatorics of Overpartition Rank Differences.” He project focused specifically on computing class numbers, which is the “analysis of the number of ways to do something given certain restrictions,” said Feng. He placed first in the mathematics competition. Feng began his work in combinatorics, the study of discrete objects, last year and continued his studies over the past summer. Feng used problems a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave him as a foundation to calculating the class numbers. Fedyk and Fleming worked together on a physics project, which was also their research project for their physics independent project. Richard Fienberg, Visiting Scientist in Astronomy, advised them. Fedyk and Fleming researched astrophysics with a focus on binary star systems. From their observations of a certain binary star system, they plotted a light curve and tried to predict when the eclipses of the system would occur, as well as the periods of the eclipses. Fedyk and Fleming each won a gold medal for their research. Saigal researched the applications of protein evolution in environmental cleanup in the field of ecology. Saigal mainly researched the recombination of DNA to create new proteins in his project titled “Complementation of Human Dihydrofolate Reductase Fragments Defined by Exon Boundaries.” Saigal’s project was a continuation of research that he had done for two years at a lab, as well as in a biology independent project. Saigal’s project won a gold medal in the category of ecology research. Fedyk had wanted to enter the conference since last year, after hearing about it from her family, but was unable to, due to insufficient funds. But this year, Fedyk applied for an Abbot Association Grant, which sponsored the trip. Saigal said, “It was a great experience, a lot of fun, I got to learn a lot from all the projects that we watched… The level of intelligence and the quality of the projects that were there was very high so it was a lot of fun and very interesting to be in.” Feng said, “It was a new, groundbreaking experience for students from the US,” because teams from the United States that had presented in previous years did not place very well. Barry wrote, “It is a remarkable conference… The teachers and university judges there all believe passionately in high school students doing meaningful research and this conference is designed to promote that.” Fedyk said highlights of the trip included “meet[ing] all the other people from all the other teams and play[ing] billiards and ping-pong with them and [having] a disco dance.” The group also visited Auschwitz, a former Nazi concentration camp, which Fedyk said was a “very moving experience.”