High School students compete in Science Symposium at UT
KNOXVILLE — Not many high school kids use their free time to ponder topics such as cardiac arrhythmias or wireless electricity transmissions, let alone devise research to better understand such topics. However students attending the 45th Tennessee Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, do.
The symposium will be held from 1:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25, in UT Knoxville’s Conference Center Auditorium (Room 406) in downtown Knoxville with student oral presentations being held between 1:30 and 6:30 p.m.
More than 20 students from high schools across the state will compete to determine who has the best research in sciences, mathematics and engineering. The presentations will be judged by a panel of UT Knoxville science and engineering faculty members. Three winners will be awarded a total of $4,500 in scholarships.
Dan Roberts, director of the Tennessee JSHS and professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, says the students are very intelligent and highly motivated to determine why things work the way they do.
“As a professor, I’ll see college students who want to know the minimum amount so that they can get to the next stage,” said Roberts. “These kids have a very unique personality trait of people driven to do research, and to see this at such a young age is really unusual.”
Roberts says there are two ways students conduct research. In one way, research is done in the university setting where there is an established lab and mission. Mentors engage students, determine their interests, and the students will advance the project. The other way is more of a “backyard approach” where students conceptualize and execute the study and project on their own.
“I am not sure that all of this comes to them while they are sitting in their beds at night looking at the ceiling, but I think the part of this that is really amazing is that they take the seed of an idea and make it happen,” said Roberts.
For the past 44 years, students’ projects have covered a wide spectrum, and this year is no different. One project by Oak Ridge High School student Yajit Jain examines electric field calculation for fluid simulation. Roberts says the project is very sophisticated and admits its mathematics may even scare some judges. Conversely, Cleveland High School student Lillie Brown headed to her backyard for her project analyzing sedimentation in creeks.
Roberts adds that while these students are extremely smart, they are also typical high school kids with various interests, noting one past winner who was also a state tennis standout.
“These students are bright, driven and creative. The judges who are tenured faculty are always blown away by how good these kids are,” Roberts said.
The symposium is one of 48 in the United States, and the only one in Tennessee. The winners will advance to the national competition in May; national winners advance to the international contest in London this summer.
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