Wheatley senior finishes 4th in national contest

Wheatley senior finishes 4th in national contest

Wheatley School senior Sonya Prasad finished fourth with her three-person team in the national Siemens Math, Science and Technology competition last weekend.

Finishing fourth in the Siemens competition out of the final six teams isn’t really like losing in the usual sense. Prasad and her project partners, Nikhil Mehandru of Roslyn High School and Santosh Narayan from Munster High School in Munster, Ind., each won $30,000 scholarships for their efforts.

Prasad is the only the second Wheatley student to make the national Siemens finals in the past 20 years.

Prasad said she wouldn’t deny that she and her team were hoping for the top spot, and she said they all felt confident after their presentation and Q&A session. Beyond the initial letdown at being named fourth, Prasad said they were proud of their work.

“We thought it was an accomplishment being at the national level. I did feel like I won,” Prasad said.

Prasad and her team have applied for a patent on their research, which used a biomarker to determine the toxicity of very tiny particles in pancreatic cancer cells. The patent application was made through the research laboratory at Stony Brook University, where they conducted their reasearch.

They conceived their approach as a relatively inexpensive method for pancreatic cancer detection, but Prasad said the application of their concept could be broader than that.

“We designed it for pancreatic cancer, but we can design it for a different type of cancer,” Prasad said.

They had chosen to specify the treatment for pancreatic cancer since that form of cancer has such a high mortality rate.

The finals of the Siemens competition came down to the top six teams of 14 students who advanced from their respective regions to make presentations on their respective research projects at George Washington University on Sunday. They also faced a panel of 12 scientists who questioned them privately about their research.

Based on the presentations that he saw on Sunday, Paul Paino, Wheatley science research director, said he couldn’t figure out which team was likely to win after the presentations.

The winning team, two students from Portland, OR wrote a computer program that interacts with human voice to analyze the sound patterns to detect emotion.

He detected Sonya’s disappointment in not taking top honors and told her to remember there only 14 other students in a similar position in the national Siemens competition on Sunday.

“Nobody loses when they go to Washington,” Paino said.

Prasad has yet to determine where she’ll go next, depending on where she is accepted to college. She does intend to pursue a career in medicine or another scientific field. Her mother, Nalini, is an anesthesiologist and her father, Kris, is an engineer.

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