The research four local high school students have done could change how doctors treat cancer, the efficiency of solar panels and the quality of fiber-optic telecommunications and medical imaging.
They’ll be heading to Phoenix later this month to share their research with other young scientists from around the world at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Elkhart Memorial’s Michael Tripepi and Penn High School’s Sam Sharkey, Sarah Catherine Baker and Alex Mobashery have all qualified to be a part of the international event May 12-17 at the Phoenix Convention Center.
All four students were a part of research programs at the University of Notre Dame. They used their research as science fair projects, earning recognition at state and regional contests and spots at the international competition.
Tripepi and Sharkey, both seniors, worked together at Notre Dame’s QuarkNet Center doing research in how to optimize optical signal quality for high-energy particle detection. They explained that their research would apply to advancing fiber optics for telecommunications and improving medical imaging — the several different kinds of scans doctors and hospitals do today.
Along with traveling to Phoenix, the two were also semifinalists in the 2012 Siemens Competition, a national contest that recognizes high school students who show remarkable talent in the areas of math, science and technology.
Both said they were very excited for their trip to Phoenix.
“It’s going to be a good time, just meeting other people with a similar interest in science,” Tripepi said.
After graduating from Memorial this spring, Tripepi plans to attend Hillsdale (Mich.) College to double major in physics and math. After that, he will most likely go on to do scientific research at a national laboratory or within the research and development department of a company.
It will be “kind of like a science fair project, but for a career,” he said.
Sharkey plans to attend Purdue University with a double major in business and engineering. He hopes to either start his own business or work for an engineering company. Doing research is also a possibility.
“I absolutely love research,” Sharkey said.
Baker, a junior at Penn, has also had a longtime love of science and research.
“I’ve always really enjoyed science, talking about science and getting people really excited about science,” she said.
Her science research at Notre Dame has been focused on genetically engineering T-cells to be better prepared to fight melanoma cells. The research eventually could be a part of a cancer-treating procedure, she said, through immunotherapy rather than chemotherapy.
Her father also studies immunology, she said, but she grew especially interested in the subject after a friend was diagnosed with leukemia.
Baker was actually at the International Science and Engineering Fair last year for some other disease research she had done.
She loved that there were so many other young people with a lot of interest in science like her, but from so many different countries and backgrounds.
“You have absolutely nothing in common and everything in common at the same time,” she said. She was also impressed by all the professional scientists, even some Nobel laureates, there last year.
After graduating next year, she plans to attend college, hopefully at Notre Dame, to study biochemistry, she said. She wants to eventually get her doctorate in medicine and work in disease research.
Alex Mobashery is another Penn student heading to the international fair.
First, though, he’s taking his project, which looks at “boosting the current of quantum dot sensitized solar cells,” to Houston for the International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment Project Olympiad.
His research works with “the next generation of solar cells,” he said, that are cheaper and more efficient to produce than current solar cells, which turn sunlight into usable energy, and could one day be used at solar farms.
After graduation, Mobashery plans to attend the University of Chicago, double majoring in chemistry and physics. He would like to go on to graduate school and also continue to do research in physical chemistry, he said.