Students share how they have immersed themselves in STEM
Although MVHS students are known to be swamped with schoolwork and stress, many have found ways to explore their interests in the STEM field outside of school. Read about the different ways MVHS students have immersed themselves in STEM, from conducting innovative research to developing their own apps.
Senior Rohin Inani has always been involved in coding, but with the advent of the pandemic in 2020, he realized that he could help solve problems in his community by creating apps.
“When I was stuck at home, I had a lot of free time and I found this problem of the [impromptu] speech branch having a really difficult time practicing at home,” Inani said. “I really wanted to solve the problem and also learn new skills–that was my motivation.”
To help the impromptu speech branch, where speakers talk about a topic without prior preparation, Inani created “Impromptu Generator.” The app, which currently has more than 10,000 users, simplifies the process of practicing impromptu speech while providing many other unique features such as text-to-speech conversion and confidence level detection. After choosing from three randomly generated prompts, users are given a specified amount of time to prepare and speak. Although “Impromptu Generator” follows the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) format for speaking, users are able to customize the times allotted for themselves to speak, making the app a valuable tool for impromptu speakers during the pandemic.
Inani’s second app, “Pristine Screen,” was similarly created to solve a problem he encountered.
“I realized [my Mac] became really dirty compared to other computers somehow,” Inani said. “I found that this was a pretty common problem, and I found ways to try to keep it clean, but I couldn’t really find a free app for it.”
As a result, Inani designed his own app that would help make computer cleaning easier. When its screen cleaning mode is turned on, “Pristine Screen” locks the keyboard and darkens the computer screen. Additionally, the app keeps their files and other applications open so users can maintain their progress while they clean their device. With over 6,000 users, “Pristine Screen” is a conceptually simple yet innovative app for a niche problem.
The last of Inani’s apps is “Thank You: Donation Tracker.” Inspired by his father’s wish for an organized donation tracker, Inani modeled “Thank You: Donation Tracker” around his own aesthetic preferences. The app’s minimalistic design and simple-to-use interface allows users to easily record their donations. Additionally, “Thank You: Donation Tracker” encourages users to fulfill their set donation goal by equipping them with tools to budget their donations throughout the year.
Despite the challenges he faced throughout app development, Inani reflected that he greatly enjoyed the process.
“I kind of took my own steps, and it was very hard at first, it was very challenging, but then eventually I got the hang of it and [I] realize[d] there’s no manual on how to do it because it’s not so straightforward,” Inani said. “And it really helped me, it showed me that you can express your ideas and your thoughts through different ways. So yeah, it was really fun and it was a great experience.”
Over the summer, Junior Jennifer Long and two others worked to sequence RNA in an attempt to find the genes related to osteoarthritis.
“Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent joint disease, and disease modifying therapies are not available for osteoarthritis,” Long said. “So new therapeutic targets need to be discovered and that’s what we’ve been trying to find, a single gene or a single protein that can code for that.”
Long was interested in this research due to her plans to enter the bioinformatics or computational biology field in the future. Additionally, she was intrigued by the ways that RNA sequencing could be used to analyze genetics. Long analyzed the RNA of knee cartilage of 20 patients with osteoarthritis and 18 healthy controls, using the programming language R as a means to do so. Long had previous experience coding in languages such as Java and C++, so learning R was not very difficult, but she adds that the “hardest part was definitely trying to normalize the data counts” so the data she used worked towards her purpose.
Working in the lab has taught Long not only technical skills, but also “cooperation, because [she had to learn] how to do the same project with two other people.” The research was not conducted in a physical lab, so she “[had] to know how to communicate effectively” with the rest of her team.
Long and her group managed to find a few genes that were significant to osteoarthritis, but she adds that further analysis might still be needed.
Astronomy has always piqued Senior Iona Xia’s interest.
For two years, Xia conducted research regarding quasars, which are massive and bright objects at the centers of galaxies. The light of distant quasars passing through the atoms and ions in clouds creates an emission spectrum that can be used to study the mysteries of galaxy evolution. However, Xia found that existing methods of detecting quasar lines were largely inefficient and limited, thus unable to produce substantial results. In her research, Xia utilized deep neural networks, a form of artificial intelligence, to develop a faster and more accurate method of analyzing absorbers.
Xia attended a research conference organized by Sigma Xi, an international honor society of science and engineering, and presented her results. Out of over 500 high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, Xia received a top presenter award, which “boosted [her] confidence in [her] own research and in [her abilities] as a scientific communicator.”
In the future, Xia hopes to work at NASA and “help uncover the mysteries of galaxy evolution.”
“Astronomy is a field that’s extremely important to not only understanding our past and our future, but also just understanding our place in the universe,” Xia said. “[NASA] can really be like the leaders of this exploration. I think that’s really cool.”