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Watchung Hills Student Achievements in STEM

The Regeneron Science Talent Search has recognized senior Daniel Lee’s research, selecting him as one of the top 300 young scientists

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Lindsay Fogel, Student News Editor

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Despite being essential to sustain life, oftentimes the significance and effort put into ensuring access to clean water is not considered. However, the ongoing Flint water crisis, in addition to the lack of clean water in many developing nations, has prompted widespread discussion regarding water treatment and accessibility.

At Watchung Hills, students are tackling this omnipresent dilemma in a myriad of ways, ranging from the H2O For Life club’s continuous work to fundraise for partner-schools in Africa to provide water wells and irrigation systems to senior Daniel Lee’s independent research project. Lee’s project, Energy Balance in Discharges in Underwater Gas Bubbles, has been recognized by one of the most prestigious talent searches for high school students in the country, the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Formerly known as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and later as the Intel Science Talent Search, this Science Talent Search has been administered for 76 years, beginning with the first search in 1942. The Regeneron Science Talent Search received upwards of 1700 applicants this year, with 300 students selected as scholars “on the basis of their exceptional promise as scientists, excellent record of academic achievement and outstanding recommendations from teachers and other scientists.” Lee’s recognition as one of these 300 young scholars has signified the importance of his work and his ability to influence the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, resulting in him being awarded $2000 for his commendable efforts, in addition to WHRHS receiving $2000 to support STEM education.

In an interview, Daniel Lee tells The Arrowhead about the search, his research project, and the significance of addressing the issue at hand.

LF: First of all, I’d just like to congratulate you on being named a scholar in the Regeneron Science Talent Search! This is a highly prestigious award, and I was hoping you could share the details of what the search is?

DL: The Regeneron Science Talent Search used to be called the Westinghouse Talent Search for its first years and then it became the Intel Talent Search. It just changed sponsors as technology companies change, and then now it’s the Regeneron Talent Search because recently the competition has been more biotechnology focused and Regeneron is a biotechnology company. It basically looks for young scientists who they think will continue science and play an important role in the field later on.

LF: How did you find out about the search and when did you decide to apply?

DL: I’ve heard about it from friends, I’ve read about it, and I did some research just to find it. The application was due around November. I already conducted research at this lab the previous summer, so the summer of my junior year, and I used that research to enter the competition.

LF: Could you explain what your project is?

DL: I studied the energy balance of electrical discharges in underwater gas bubbles. Basically you create a gas bubble, I used Argon, so you make this bubble and inject some gas into the water and you have two electrodes, one on the top and one on the bottom of the bubble, and it creates an electrical discharge, like plasma. That plasma creates reactive species, like OH particles, which decompose volatile organics. These chemicals are carcinogenic and they’re just pollutants in our water that are bad for our health, so the primary purpose of the research is to improve the energy efficiency of this plasma-based water treatment. You can use these electrical discharges to decompose organic inhabitants and they also kill bacteria, so they’re currently being researched as an alternative to current water treatment techniques, which use chlorination and other less advanced stuff, like removing sediments, current bacteria using chlorine, and these don’t target the compounds that are currently being released into the environment.

LF: What directed you towards this project specifically?

DL: I’d been interested in water treatment for awhile . . . I did a project in 8th grade called Future City and the goal was to create a futuristic city that targeted the water crisis, so that got me interested in water treatment. Also, I have family in Taiwan and their water quality there is pretty bad, and I was kind of interested in how you could fix that and what other types of water treatment are available for people in rural areas.

LF: You mentioned working on this project this past summer, could you explain where the project was developed?

DL: I began working on it in the spring of 2016 and I went to the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab a few times a week. I then continued at PPPL full-time over the summer.

LF: Is the project complete or do you plan on continuing working on it?

DL: I’m working on publishing a paper right now with my mentor, Dr. Gershman. She was actually a teacher here of the ERD (Experimental Research and Design) course. I [still] go to the lab once in awhile, but right now we’re mostly working on publishing.

LF: After the paper’s published, do you think you’ll continue similar work in college?

DL: I’m definitely going to continue research and studying science in college, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be the exact same plasma-based project because plasma is often involved in graduate work. There aren’t as many undergraduate majors that are exposed to plasma, but I’m definitely still interested in water treatment and will see where college takes me.

LF: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the experience or the project?

DL: I’d like to say Dr. Gershman has been a very big influence and it’s unfortunate that she is not in the school anymore and that the ERD program is gone.

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