By Jano Tantongco
A Half Hollow Hills High School West senior has earned a spot among the 96 finalists in the selective Siemens Competition, as announced on Oct. 19 by the Siemens Foundation.
Alice Wu, 17, won the distinction for her work in research to regenerate teeth through the use of dental pulp cells.
“I think I’ve always been interested in solving problems, ever since I was young. I was a very curious kid… I’m constantly asking, ‘Why does this happen?’ ” she said.
Her work was based at the Garcia Research Scholar Program at Stony Brook University, where she worked with faculty advisors Adriana Pinkas-Sarafova and Miriam Rafailovich.
Wu worked with the tissue engineering group to determine which surface promoted the greatest differentiation of the stem cells into bone cells. Wu said “differentiation” is the process whereby stem cells transform into other cells.
She added that the stem cells turned into bone when they were attached to surfaces that were more porous, closely resembling the structure of dentin, the hardened calcified tissue that make up teeth.
While complete tooth regeneration is not yet possible, she saw the research as a step forward into the “exciting and very modern” field of tissue engineering.
“Once I got more formally introduced to science, and the basic principles and concepts behind it, that just really spoke to me as a kid,” she said. “I just like the idea that engineering allows me to apply knowledge from I gain from textbooks to real world applications.”
Outside the lab, Wu runs cross-country winter track and plays badminton for Hills.
Looking ahead, she plans to apply on the early decision track to Yale University, where she’d like to major in computer science or biomedical engineering.
As a potential career choice, she is interested in video game design and software engineering.
She hopes to plan, code and design aesthetics for games.
The Siemens Foundation established the Siemens Competition in 1999. It’s a premier science research competition for high school students and seeks to promote excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects. Siemens finalists have the opportunity to win scholarships ranging from $1,000-$100,000.
“Every year, I look forward to seeing whether this will be the year when we’ll see a project that will lead to developing the cure for cancer – or identify tomorrow’s coolest technology,” stated David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation. “We congratulate the regional finalists on their accomplishments and wish them luck in the next phase of the competition.”