Students Present Their Independent Projects in NestED

Clicking through vibrant slides detailing their hard work over the past terms, students showcased their Independent Projects (IPs) to a colloquium of students and faculty members in the Nest last Wednesday.

Terrence Xiao ’16 presented his integrated aquaponics project, Veronica Nutting ’16 and Alex Armour ’16 presented their research on contemporary depictions of Native Americans in 19th century artwork, and Yatharth Agarwal ’17, Tony Tan ’17, and Cam Wong ’16 spoke about the launch of their PA Capture the Flag (PACTF) competition.
Xiao developed an interest in aquaculture during middle school when he first started maintaining his own aquariums of fish and plants. After learning more about the science of aquaponics – a system that combines the practice of raising aquatic organisms as livestock and the cultivation of plants through the direct suspension of root systems in nutrient solution – Xiao applied for an Abbot grant and an IP to support his goal of building an aquaponics system on campus.
“My original hope for aquaponics was actually that I would be able to build a really big system or greenhouse that Paresky Commons could use. As it turns out, that idea was a little too ambitious… In terms of the scope of the project itself, I really wanted people to start talking about environmental consciousness and activism on campus,” said Xiao in an interview with The Phillipian.

Xiao constructed the system in Gelb room 109 from a fishtank and grow beds, which allowed crops to take in nutrients from the water, and is currently using it to grow plants like arugula, cilantro, and spinach. He has documented the process in his blog at

Xiao believes that aquaponics represent a new manner of food production that could have the potential to address issues related to the global food shortage.
“My goal isn’t just to showcase this amazing new technology, or try to singlehandedly curb global hunger, but rather to demonstrate that these issues of sustainability and environmentalism and food production… can actually be explored by students in a very direct physical manner, in this case, by literally building an ecosystem and being able to interact with it,” said Xiao.

Agarwal, Tan, and Wong also received an Abbot grant to fund their IP, and used their knowledge of coding and computer science to launch their own online CTF competition, in which participants solve increasingly challenging security puzzles.

This competition, called PACTF, will differ from typical CTF in that rounds of the tournament last for a two-day span rather than two weeks at a time, which allows Andover students to participate despite their busy schedules. PACTF has a total of $2000 in prizes to distribute to the team that gathers the most “flags” at the end of the match.
“[Agarwal] and I were in the same dorm, and we were both into computer science, and we both knew how to program, but we had never heard of CTF before. We got an email from [Maria Litvin] and the Computer Science Club saying that there was a [CTF event] going on at Carnegie Mellon University. We did pretty well for the first time, and that got us interested, so we started participating in more CTFs,” said Tan in an interview with The Phillipian.

“We’ve gone from not knowing what CTF stands for to having applied and gotten approved for an Abbot Grant, having applied for and completed an IP, to finally reaching the point where we’re launching an online CTF competition in a fortnight,” said Agarwal.

PATCF is open to individual participants and teams all around the country, and clubs like Techmasters and Computer Science Club will be teaching more about CTF this spring.
Wong, in retrospect, encourages other students to apply for an IP.

“The best thing to do is just go for it. I’ve gone for many, and I’ve gotten several rejected… That’s what the whole process is for: It’s to make you think about what exactly you’re doing, and whether or not you can actually get it done. If you’re wrong, the people on the IP Council will call you on that, and if you’re not, hopefully you’ll have something good to go,” said Wong in an interview with The Phillipian.