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Local high school students place second in national STEM competition

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December 14, 2012

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INDIANAPOLIS --Two local high school students, under the guidance of IUPUI mathematicians, have placed second in the national finals of the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

Daniel Fu, a junior at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis, and Patrick Tan, a junior at Carmel High School, will share a $50,000 scholarship as a result of their second-place finish. This will add to the $6,000 scholarship they earned for winning the regional competition in South Bend, Ind., on Nov. 10 for their research titled "Chaos and Robustness in a Single Family of Genetic Oscillatory Networks.” Their project revealed new techniques for mathematically analyzing genetic oscillatory networks.

Alexey Kuznetsov, associate professor of mathematical science at IUPUI, and Yaroslav Molkov, assistant professor, mentored the students as they advanced the research first started by Kuznetsov. The results of their research could lead to better treatments for irregularities in the cell cycle, such as cancer, or in the circadian rhythm, such as sleep disorders.

“Our experience with these students was extremely rewarding,” said Molkov, a faculty member in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at IUPUI. “They were very fast workers, well-organized and motivated.

“All we needed to do to push this project forward was communicate a comment or idea, and the students then implemented it themselves,” he added.

IUPUI mathematics professor Pavel Blaher mentored a team in 2010 that also earned a second-place finish in the Siemens national finals.

The win by Fu and Tan in the team category at the regional competition earned them the chance to present in the finals Dec. 1 to 4 in Washington, D.C. The Siemens Competition is one of the nation's premier STEM research competitions and features students from across the country. Top individual and team winners received a $100,000 scholarship.

"I think research at the mathematical level is especially important, since math underlies all other sciences," Fu said. "We feel very honored that our project has done so well in the Siemens Competition."

Fu is a member of the USA Computing Olympiad Silver Division, secretary of the student council and editor of the newspaper at Park Tudor. He is considering studying computer science or political science and hopes to one day become a research professor or politician.

"The experience I was able to gain from doing research, learning how to solve problems and overcoming obstacles along the way has taught me invaluable lessons in science and life," Tan said. "The willingness of (Kuznetsov and Molkov) to work with us and lend their resources and time was one of the most important factors in our success."

Tan is president of the Chemistry Club at Carmel High School, a member of the Key Club and a member of Top Symphonic Band. He plans to study biochemistry, applied mathematics and finance and hopes to have a career that combines math and science and his desire to help people, according to a Siemens release.

“Daniel and Patrick developed an original technique and made progress in the mathematical understanding of delayed differential equations, which help understand the cyclical biological behavior such as exhibited in sleep and cancer,” said regional judge Matthew Dyer, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Notre Dame.

“The team showed creativity in combining pure and applied mathematics and making extensive use of computer calculations,” Dyer added in an official competition news release.

Molkov said the students contacted him and Kuznetsov last fall because of their expertise in the subject matter. For his Ph.D. dissertation, Kuznetsov addressed the phenomena of synchronization and pattern formation in active, oscillatory networks using qualitative theory of differential equations and computational modeling. Molkov, meanwhile, has expertise in data-driven modeling and the analysis of a wide range of physical and biological systems, including those involving time delays and chaotic dynamics.

The two students told the judges their project was inspired by the film “Inception,” which explores the mysteries of deep sleep.

The School of Science is committed to excellence in teaching, research and service in the biological, physical, behavioral and mathematical sciences. The school is dedicated to being a leading resource for interdisciplinary research and science education in support of Indiana's effort to expand and diversify its economy.