Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

High school researchers wow judges at symposium

Sherwin Thiyagarajan, senior at Albuquerque School of Excellence, presents his project predicting professional basketball game scores at a science symposium Friday in Albuquerque. (Michael Walls/Office of Naval Research)

What were you up to in the last few months of the school year when you were in high school?

For around 225 students touted as the country’s top high school STEM talent, last weekend meant putting their original research on display for judges from the US Army, Navy and Air Force during the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium held in Albuquerque.

“It’s exciting to see these high school students working at such a sophisticated level, connecting what they learned in their STEM classes to uncover new discoveries,” said Erika Shugart, executive director of the National Science Teaching Association, which administered the event.

The Embassy Suites hotel reverberated Friday with the chatter of eager young researchers presenting their work to judges roaming around with clipboards or seated at tables as some students narrated from behind podiums.

During Saturday’s awards banquet, 48 students’ names were read for tuition scholarships of up to $12,000 for oral presentations sponsored by the Tri-Service, or the US Army, Navy and Air Force, or up to $550 in cash prizes for poster presentations.

Sherwin Thiyagarajan, senior at Albuquerque School of Excellence, endeavored to predict professional basketball game scores using machine learning partly based on a Markov chain, a mathematical system that uses one situation or set of values ​​to predict future ones.

“I’m a basketball player, I’ve played for my school for six years. Essentially, it’s my passion, it’s the thing that I use to escape from other stressors,” he said. “JSHS gave me the opportunity to do some research about basketball and have fun with it while also learning at the same time.”

Out of more than 8,000 students, 224 become finalists.

The national symposium is held each year as a culmination of 49 regional symposiums across the country and recognizes US Air Force Chief Scientist Victoria Coleman told finalists, “The strengths that you as students bring to the science and technology endeavor that we at the Department of Defense depend on for the future of our country.”

It was last held in Albuquerque in 2019, so the last time it was organized in person.

“Returning to an in-person event for the first time since 2019 was rewarding for not only our national finalists, but all of the mentors, teachers, military personnel and staff in attendance,” said project manager Andrea Malenya.

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