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Seniors place in Intel contest

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By: Leon Chong

Two seniors have succeeded in the Intel Science Talent Search, one of the most prestigious science competitions in the nation. Seniors Jin Pan and Jean Wang both placed as semi-finalists, with Pan moving on as a finalist.

As one of 40 finalists, Pan has a chance to win a $100,000 scholarship. His research project was about ribosome transition rates and protein formation. “[My experiment] provided a deeper understanding of how proteins fold into functional units,” Pan said. “The results form a theoretical basis for an improved method to cripple viruses.”

Pan’s experiment will contribute to creating vaccines for serious viruses. “My research can improve on this method by encoding both pauses and fast regions into viral proteins to disrupt translational fidelity, creating a vaccine for any virus, including HIV,” Pan said.

Wang worked to achieve a place as one of 300 semi-finalists. Her project  focused on circulating tumor cells (CTCs), which are largely considered the origins of metastases, the leading cause of deaths in cancer patients. The lab where she worked created a device to capture these elusive cells in the blood. In her research, she improved the process of enumerating these cells after they had been captured. “I made a program that reduces the number of cells and extraneous proteins that must be checked and confirmed to be CTCs after the blood has been filtered,” Wang said.

Both Pan and Wang have gained enough experience in conducting research to pass on advice to future science competition contestants. Wang believes that passion in a researcher area is the key to success. “Whatever you do for your research, make sure you’re passionate about it,” Wang said. On a more technical viewpoint, Pan explains how a lot of the work relies on your ability to program.

However, Wang and Pan both stress that the work required for the competition is extremely time-consuming. Extensive research must be done in the selected area, and work must usually begin with a professor. Pan was paired with his mentors through the Simon’s Summer Research Program. “I worked with a graduate student and a professor for seven weeks, where I woke up at 11 a.m. and worked to 3 a.m., 15 hours a day,” he said.

Wang also sacrificed long hours to work on her project.  “I dedicated most of my summer to researching and worked all day in the lab, often staying until 10  p.m. at night,” she said. Although the work may be tough, Wang establishes that perseverance and good attitude are important for triumph and the preservation of top quality. “I think it’s up to you to be productive,” Wang said.

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Seniors place in Intel contest