Two high school students mentored by Stony Brook University professors Memming Park and Moira Chas are heading to the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search (STS) finals in Washington, DC, from March 10 to 16. The students — Michael Yifan Li from Salisbury, MD, mentored by Park, and Rachel Zhang, from Manchester, MO, mentored by Chas — conducted their independent research projects at Stony Brook as part of the Simons Summer Research Program and the MIT-PRIMES program, respectively.
Park is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and Chas is an associate professor in the Department Mathematics. The professors observed and encouraged the students, both of whom developed original and insightful research that have significant potential in their fields.
“When I heard Michael was an Intel finalist, I was very pleased because his performance was growing exponentially during the Simons research training,” said Park. “After the program he returned to my lab and continued to develop his ideas, worked continuously, and reached a certain threshold in his findings.”
Professor Park explained that Michael Li contributed to the field of Neurobiology by showing how information is processed in one area of the rat brain. “The bigger impact of his finding is that it tells you how sensor information from the outside world is integrated in the brain process, which tells us more about things like decision-making,” said Park.
Regarding the overall body of research by Rachel Zhang, Professor Chas said, “Rachel made an original contribution to mathematics, with her own ideas that are clear and beautiful.” Zhang’s work concerns surfaces, which can be understood as the outer layer of a solid object.
“Rachel showed an amazing knowledge of mathematics for someone her age,” said Chas. “She studied curves on surfaces, and in her research was able to describe an interesting structure related to the number of crossings of curves on surfaces.”
The 2016 Intel STS finalists are from 38 high schools in 18 states. A total of 40 national finalists were selected from 300 semifinalists and 1,750 entrants based on the originality and creativity of their scientific research, as well as their academic achievement and leadership. The students will compete for more than $1 million in scholarship awards provided by the Intel Foundation.