High School Freshman Takes Home Top Science Prize

15 Year-Old Whiz Kid Wins 13th Annual Orlando Science Center Competition

Orlando, FL - May 1, 2011 - Kristen Clayton, a 15 year-old freshman from Brevard County’s Viera High School and a first time participant in the Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition took home the top prize during the awards ceremony on Sunday, May 1. Clayton takes home a trophy, a $5,000 cash scholarship plus $1,000 awards each for her science teacher and her school. For more than a decade, Philanthropist, Scientist and Entrepreneur Dr. Nelson Ying has hosted this competition in collaboration with the Orlando Science Center to encourage the outstanding scientific accomplishments of our community’s teens.

Clayton’s research concerns a rapidly growing aquatic plant named Lemna minor and its potential for use in the production of ethanol fuel. Her work allows the plant to absorb large amount of phosphates and nitrates from the water, which helps reduce algae growth while allowing the plant to attain its maximum starch content. This result makes Lemna minor ideal feedstock for ethanol production.

Currently, corn, sorghum, and sweet potatoes are used to make ethanol, but using Lemna Minor instead would reduce the amount of land needed for ethanol production and keep these other plants available as food sources. Her research has multiple impacts, including helping with deforestation, fighting starvation, increasing ethanol fuel production and reducing algae growth. Clayton was inspired to pursue this research after spotting the huge masses of algae in the local waterways on her drive to school every morning. She also credits her mother, a single parent, as a major source of inspiration and support.

In addition to the top award, Event Co-Founder and Sponsor Dr. Nelson Ying and the judges’ panel decided to award a $2,000 cash prize to a runner-up and then name the remaining finalists “Ying Scholars” with each receiving prizes of $1,000. The competition usually names one big winner, but multiple awards have been bestowed in the past by Ying when the judges have determined that more than one finalist was worthy of acclaim.

Collin McAliley, a 17 year-old senior from Brevard’s Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High, received the $2,000 award for an extension of his research on red tide. In 2009 and 2010, he won this competition’s grand prize for earlier phases of this research. This year, McAliley developed a quicker, less expensive and more accessible test to detect the most harmful toxin in red tide.  This test can be done using basic lab equipment with cheaper chemicals making it available to be performed in labs everywhere. His ultimate goal is create a positive environmental impact by diminishing harmful red tides.

The other awards went to Neel Patel, a 16 year-old junior at Seminole County’s Oviedo High School for his research on delivering information through sound rather than with visual displays to aid visually impaired scientists or other professionals, like fighter pilots, who are overloaded with visual information; Alex Keeler, a 17 year-old junior from Sumter County’s South Sumter High School, for his research on a natural remedy to eliminate the growth of drug-resistant MRSA bacterial infections, which would have less side effects and a greater success rate than current antibiotics; and Deepak Sathyanarayan, an 18 year-old senior from Volusia County’s Spruce Creek High School, for research to improve plant defenses against pathogens so they grow more efficiently and create a greater crop yield, which overall could improve worldwide food productivity, lower crop prices, and reduce the environmental strain of agriculture.

This year, the 13th Annual Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition was held April 29 to May 1. The event included the finalists defending their research before the competition’s judges and taking exclusive behind-the-scenes tours at some key technology sites, including one of the power plants for Orlando Utilities Commission. The awards were distributed during a ceremony on Sunday at Fulton’s Crab House at Downtown Disney.

Research projects were solicited from students in high schools or homeschool equivalents in Orange, Seminole, Brevard, Lake, Osceola, Volusia and Sumter Counties. Projects submitted were required to have an altruistic application - an ultimate goal of benefiting humanity. The finalists were chosen after a thorough review by a distinguished panel of judges, which included Ying as well as engineers, scientists and educators from Lockheed Martin, Rollins College and the University of Central Florida. By spotlighting this exceptional research, Ying hopes to inspire these youth and their peers to become tomorrow’s science leaders.

(Photos by rfphotography.com)


2011 OSC Ying Winner:

2011-OSC-Ying-Winner_KClayton

(Left to Right) Dr. Nelson Ying, Kristen Clayton, Nelson Ying, Jr. at the awards ceremony for the Orlando Science Center's Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition.


2011 OSC Ying Finalists:

2011-OSC-Ying_Finalists

(Left to Right) Neel Patel, Deepak Sathyanarayan, Collin McAliley, Alex Keeler, Kristen Clayton, Competition Chair Fred Curtis, Dr. Nelson Ying, Nelson Ying, Jr. at the awards ceremony for the Orlando Science Center's Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition.


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