Written by: Klaire Tan
On Nov. 10, sophomore Joy Jin and her partner Thomas Luh, a junior at Leland High School, beat five other teams to be named team category National Finalists of Region One in the 2012 Siemens Competition for Math, Science and Technology.
One of the most prestigious science competitions in the United States, the Siemens Competition annually receives about 1,600 original research projects submitted by high school students from around the nation. Judges first select up to 300 students as semifinalists, of which 30 individuals and 30 teams continue on to compete as regional finalists. “[The Siemens Competition] gives the students real world application of content,” Principal Katya Villalobos said. “This is an amazing opportunity for Jin. The project could not have been completed without her drive, determination, intelligence and courage.”
As regional finalists, Jin and Luh traveled to the California Institute of Technology to present their research project along with five other teams of Regional Finalists to a panel of judges. After being selected as National Finalists at the regional finals, Jin and Luh moved on to national finals in Washington, D.C., where they once again presented their project and competed for scholarships. Altogether, Luh and Jin were awarded $16,000 from both regional and national finals competitions.
“The national finals are a lot bigger than regional finals and are broadcasted live,” Jin said. “Each step you didn’t know what to expect. There are judges from all over and even outside the nation. There’s a lot more pressure. It’s really exciting, and you get to meet a lot of famous people.
Jin and Luh first began their research project in the summer of 2012 at the Thoracic Oncology Laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) under the mentorship of UCSF professor Dr. Hu Li. The two originally met at an internship at the same lab in late November of 2011. Out of a mutual interest in scientific inquiry, both returned to the lab the next year to partner up for the Siemens Competition.
At the lab, Jin and Luh conducted experiments on cultured, artificial cancer cells while simultaneously looking at data from lung cancer patients. The goal of their project was to investigate the relationship between the Hedgehog/Gli and E-Cadherin proteins and how they impacted the development and spread of cancer.
After performing preliminary trials, they began reading biological texts and papers on similar topics . “Research papers were where we learned how to analyze results and figure out what was important and necessary to continue,” Jin said.
Jin and Luh concluded from the data that the relationship between Hedgehog/Gli and E-Cadherin can cause cells to multiply faster and encourage the formation and spread of cancer cells. “Our research put one more piece to the puzzle that can solve lung cancer,” Jin said. “We discovered a new relationship between two proteins that no one had ever researched before. It’s a novel approach.” After looking at the data, Jin and Luh began writing up a lab report documenting their research and findings. “It felt really satisfactory to put all our information in a research paper,” Jin said. “I realized that every word someone writes down in a lab paper takes a lot of work.”
According to Jin, the research findings will contribute to the battle against lung cancer by helping pharmaceutical companies develop a new lung cancer drug. The drug will help fight lung cancer by decreasing both the formation and spread of cancer cells. “Lung cancer has a large social and economical impact on the world,” she said. “There is a very urgent need for this type of drug, since over 80 percent of lung cancer patients experience the spread of their disease to other parts of the body, leading to a much higher probability of death.”