High School Junior’s Green Algae Research Scores Top Prize!
Pooja Shah, a junior at Melbourne’s West Shore Jr./Sr. High School was named the grand prize winner in Orlando Science Center’s Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition. The awards ceremony was held on Sunday, April 28 at the historic Dubsdread Ballroom near Orlando Science Center.
For over 20 years, Dr. Nelson Ying — a local scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist — has partnered with Orlando Science Center to celebrate the exemplary achievements of our community’s young scientists. Shah’s research project on green algae was rewarded with a $5,000 scholarship, a $1,000 award for her science teacher and an additional $1,000 for her school.
To compete in the Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition, each entrant must perform a research project that ultimately benefits humanity by solving a world problem. Projects are presented to a distinguished panel of judges including current and retired engineers, scientists, educators, and Dr. Ying himself.
Shah’s research project created a quorum sensing model in green algae, which can lead to a better understanding of these organisms. Ultimately, her findings could help researchers to develop solutions to algae blooms, coral reef disease and threats to human health.
She has been researching in a plant physiology lab at Florida Institute of Technology since her freshman year. In addition to science, her interests include playing the violin, running cross country and playing basketball. Shah also coaches a special needs basketball team and hopes to combine her love of science research with her passion for helping others with a career in the medical field after college.
First Runner Up
Her fellow finalists were also recognized with prizes. First runner up honors were shared by Kyle Bramblett, a junior at Titusville High School, and Kishen Mitra, also a junior at West Shore. Both reserved $1500 scholarships for their research. Bramblett designed an artificial structure that would have significant effects on increasing the average oyster growth rate and improving the calcium and carbonate levels in water near these structures while Mintra is devoted to developing an organ-on-a-chip system as a risk prediction tool for assessing damage during radiation therapy on patients.
Second Runner Up
Second Runner up was a tie between Alex Carnes, a junior at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, and Laboni Santra, a sophomore at Oviedo High School. Carnes created an application that would allow parents to non-intrusively monitor their child’s social media accounts for cyberbullying while Santra designed and fabricated microneedle patches for delivery of therapeutics directly to phloem tissue, which combats citrus greening – a bacterial threat to Florida’s nine billion dollar citrus industry.
Dr. Nelson Ying is a longtime supporter of Orlando Science Center. In 1997, after sponsoring numerous exhibits and serving on the board, he decided to try something new. He wanted to support the Science Center’s mission to inspire science learning for life while also creating an opportunity to inspire and encourage exceptional science achievement among young people.
He and Fred Curtis, another long-time Science Center volunteer and donor, started the Dr. Ying Science Competition in 1998. Ying hopes to inspire young people to become good role models and successful world-changers by leveraging their passion for science. Dr. Ying’s son, Nelson Jr., now oversees the competition with Ying and Curtis in collaboration with Orlando Science Center.