Stem Cells, Twitter Bots, and the Speed of Light: Students Explore All Things STEM at Annual Science Lecture Competition
Ruth Lunsford ’20 & Ashley Hyde

 

On Saturday morning, November 9, the St. Andrew’s Science Department held its second annual Peter K. McLean Science Lecture Competition. Students were invited to submit presentations on a STEM topic of their choosing in a variety of fields: physics, astronomy, chemistry, engineering, computer science, environmental science, biology, and medicine. Four student finalists were then selected to give their presentations to the school community in Engelhard Hall this past Saturday. This year’s finalists were:

  • Christine Chen ’21, who presented on alternative cancer treatments
  • Will Cook ’20, who presented on the possibilities of traveling faster than the speed of light
  • Robert Shyroian ’21 & Patrick Mauboussin ’21, who presented on identifying and creating malicious Twitter bots
  • Han Shen ’21, who presented on the use of STEM cells as a cure for aging

The finalists' talks were judged by a panel of the science faculty, with Emily Paton '20, last year's winner, representing the student vote. Hans Shen ’21 was selected as the winner. 

“We started this competition in 2018 to give a platform to the young scientists and engineers in our student body who are keen to share their work and passion for these fields beyond the classroom, and to embrace the communication and public speaking skills so crucial to the advancement of science and technology,” explained Dr. Ashley Hyde, who founded the competition. “One of the most exciting things about this competition is how it shows us that anybody can be a scientist or engineer; the students who participate always have talent in and enthusiasm for many other studies, for the arts, for their athletics.” 

“The competition's name honors legendary science faculty member, Dr. Peter McLean, who in his years at St. Andrew’s, committed himself to inspiring wonder, scientific curiosity, and environmental stewardship among students and faculty members alike,” Hyde noted. 

Christine Chen ’21 led off the morning with a talk titled "Cancer No More?" Christine focused on research she pursued this past summer in China, inspired by Chinese medicine, on the effectiveness of syringic acid, a garlic extract, in combating cancer cell resistance. Next up was Will Cook ’20, with a presentation titled "The Alcubierre Drive: Breaking the Cosmic Speed Limit?" Will explored the possibility of traveling across the universe at speeds greater than the speed of light by warping spacetime. Following Will, Patrick Mauboussin ’21 and Robert Shyroian ’21 presented "Identifying and Creating Malicious Twitter Bots." Patrick and Robert both worked at the Santa Fe Institute last summer, where they learned to comb through data to identify malicious actors on social media. In order to better understand the process, Patrick and Robert then built a bot using a Markov model and a dataset of 3 million deceptive Russian tweets. Hans Shen ’21 closed out the lectures with a talk titled "Stem Cells: A Cure for Aging." Hans used his own research on dental pulp stem cells, which he conducted this past summer at Stony Brook University, as the foundation of a broader presentation on the potential of stem cells to mitigate or reverse the effects of aging. 

“After careful deliberation, Hans was selected as the winner of the second annual McLean Science Lecture Competition,” Hyde said. “Hans was gracious in his success and thoroughly displayed his passion for the project and science itself.”

“I have been fascinated by science, especially biological sciences, since I was in middle school,” Hans said after the competition. “This past summer I was really fortunate to receive an amazing opportunity to conduct my own research on stem cells through a summer program. Of course, I was thrilled when I heard about the Science Lecture Competition, through which I can share my own passion for science with other students at SAS.”

“ I want to give a special thanks to my advisor, Mr. O’Connell, for helping me so much along the way,” Hans continued. “The biggest lesson that I learned during the process of preparation [for the competition] was thinking about who my audience would be. Together Mr. O’Connell and I worked on simplifying all technical terms and making the information as accessible as possible. I would also love to appreciate Dr. Hyde and all the faculty members from the Science Department for granting us this opportunity to share our passion, and Mr. Roach and Mr. Rehrig for their support!”

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