Future STEM leaders gather at National Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium in Dayton

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The 54th Annual National Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium brought together more than 230 high school students from across the country with 100 Department of Defense scientists and engineers to showcase their original research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at the Dayton Convention Center April 27-30.

The event, sponsored by the Air Force, Army and Navy encourages young men and women to pursue education and careers in STEM fields. Each year, the national symposium is hosted by one of the services on a rotational basis with the Air Force as the host service this year.

Students first presented their research at one of 47 regional competitions hosted by colleges and universities. The top five students from each region were invited to participate in oral presentations or poster presentations at the national symposium.

Curtis Rowland, chief scientist, National Air and Space Intelligence Center provided opening remarks including an overview of NASIC's mission and then a team from NASIC discussed the physics challenges presented by their mission to maintain situational awareness of hundreds of foreign space objects 22,000 miles away in geosynchronous orbit as part of what's called 'Project Silversword.' NASIC has been working closely with the Air Force Research Laboratory under Project Silversword to develop tools and techniques to tackle this scientific challenge.

The event provided the students an excellent venue to share their research and learn from others.

Paige Brown, a senior at Bangor High School in Bangor, Maine, conducted research that found a majority of the streams she used to play in when she was growing up were significantly impaired with a variety of pollutants such as phosphorous. She invented a device that absorbs phosphorous from storm water and prevents high levels of it from building up in the streams in her community, and then hopefully, all over the world. Her research was an environmental engineering project called 'Constructing an Inexpensive Calcium Alginate-Based Scaffold for Phosphorous Sorption in Storm Water." She is working on a patent application for her invention and hopes to create a start-up company of her own to produce and market the device to municipalities around the world.

"One of the greatest things about symposiums like this is that they can help get younger kids inspired to pursue science, and to pursue the things that they are passionate about because we need the innovation that comes with the younger generation - the new ways of thinking and the new ideas in order to move forward and make progress on environmental issues like this and others all over the world," she said. "Research is meant to be shared and it's meant to be collaborative, so when you bring your ideas to a stage like this, it gives you the opportunity to collaborate with other kids your age and talk with them about their research."

In March, Brown also won a First Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good and a $150,000 prize to continue her research as part of the Intel Science Talent Search 2016 competition for studying the water quality of six environmentally impaired local streams with high E. coli and phosphate contamination levels.

"The Army, Navy and Air Force sponsor the JSHS to honor the work that these young people have done and to invest in the development of these students as future leaders and contributors to STEM," said Doris Cousens, Director, National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. "The services are looking toward the future and developing a workforce of scientists and engineers who can help support our nation's defense."

At the age of eight, while watching a television special on black holes, Kaisa Crawford-Taylor of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, decided that she wanted to become a theoretical astrophysicist. At 17, she's already accomplishing her dream. Kaisa's Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) project uncovers massive black holes capable of emitting gravitational waves - such as those recently discovered by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) - using open databases; namely, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey's tenth data release of quasars and New York University's Value Added Catalogue. Using the computer language Python, Kaisa created a program that deftly sorted through the combined databases' 2.7 million galaxies. The program returned a handful of potential binaries, which Kasia analyzed to identify four supermassive black hole binary candidates. She was one of two JSHS participants to participate at the White House Science Fair in April.

She offered words of encouragement for other students following in her footsteps, saying, "Don't let your age be a factor and cause you to be fearful of sharing your research. Take the steps necessary to make a difference."

"These students are the future of innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in our country," said symposium host, Richard Baker, director, Air Force STEM Outreach Programs. "We created this event to inspire students - yet they are the ones who inspire all of us with their determination, thirst for knowledge, and break-through research."