By Connor Beach
Three Half Hollow Hills students have been named national finalists in the prestigious Siemens Competition for their research project that could help combat the effects of degenerative diseases.
The team of High School East juniors Arooba Ahmed, 15, and Jiachen Lee, 16, along with Hills West junior Jillian Parker, 16, will join five other teams and six individual students on the national stage of the competition, which will be held Dec. 4-5 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The Siemens Competition, launched by the Siemens Foundation in 1999, provides high school students with the chance to vie for college scholarships by submitting individual or team research projects in the fields of math and science.
The group of finalists was selected from a total of 491 regional finalists across the country that collectively submitted 1,860 original research projects.
This is the second year in a row that Half Hollow Hills has had a student advance to the national finals; Hills West Class of 2017 grad Alice Wu reached the same point last year.
This year, Ahmed, Lee and Parker worked together to study the role of protein CCDC11 during the process of cell division.
Lee said the Half Hollow Hills Academic Research Director Michael Lake introduced the three students to a scientific advisor who helped them extend their research project off of an interesting observation made by a previous student.
“It was really amazing to discover that this protein is known to have a role in the formation of cilia,” Ahmed said. “We found that it plays a role in cell division that was never previously documented.”
The discovery of the role that CCDC11 plays in the process of cell division earned the students a spot in the regional semifinals of the Siemens Competition. On Nov. 18, they presented their research via video conference to a panel of judges from Carnegie Mellon University.
“We had to give a 12-minute presentation, and then there was a 15-minute Q&A session where the judges could ask us questions about the field in general,” Lee said.
The team prepared by reading up on academic literature in order to become familiarized with the topic and the field of biology.
The trio has already begun preparing for the national finals, during which college scholarships ranging $25,000-$100,000 will be up for grabs.
“We are just going to prepare the same way we did for the regional finals, practicing the presentation and reinforcing the material we already know” Parker said.
Researching at an advanced level and implementing a scientific method firsthand has provided the team with an opportunity to gain valuable experience outside of the classroom, and also become friends.
Ahmed said, “It’s great to have such a great team to work with, and we’ve all become really close now.”