Editor’s note: STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) News is new feature on Local Tech Wire through a collaborative effort with the NC STEM Community Collaborative, MCNC, and the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Center (SMT Center). To submit story ideas, please email LTW Editor Rick Smith rsmith@wral.com or Noah Garrett noah@thinkngc.com.

By RUSS CAMPBELL, SMT Center

RALEIGH, N.C. – “When I awoke mid-flight to Beijing, China, it had not fully hit me that I would be representing the United States,” wrote high school student Victoria Melbourne in her blog. “I remember arriving at RDU (airport) prior to our departure, and you could feel the excitement that swirled around the proud parents, chaperones, and my three new friends.”

Beijing is 12,000 miles from North Carolina, and with its population of 17.5 million, has twice the number of people. But, a partnership between the and the (NCISC) creates a link between these two distant and distinct areas.

For a week in mid-March, four North Carolina high school students represented the United States at the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition. In order to be selected to attend, the students had to enter their research at the NCISC. Shalini Chudasama, Victoria Jones, Victoria Melbourne, and Chelsea Sumner – all from the Triangle area – traveled to Beijing to present their original research projects to an international audience.

"All of the finalists completed excellent projects. These four, however, are the best of the best," said Todd Boyette, a judge for NCISC. "Although they are high school students, they are contributing new knowledge through their research. In addition, they can communicate their findings effectively, and their enthusiasm for their work is infectious. I cannot think of better ambassadors than these four."

While their projects were not in competition, the students had an opportunity to interact with future scientists from around the world.

For Knightdale High School junior Chelsea Sumner, the trip was a culmination of a roller coaster year that involved an internship in , a program that places underrepresented minorities in university lab settings. The experience, she said, left her with a fondness for research.

Sumner’s project entitled “The Effect of Catalase on the Oxidation of Hydrogen Peroxide at Carbon Fiber Microelectrodes Using Fast Scan Cyclic Voltammetry” looked at using hydrogen peroxide as an agent in neuroanalysis for addiction. She worked with Leslie Sombers at (NCSU) on the project.

While in Beijing, Sumner noticed some delegates from the Ukraine also were working with Catalase in their research. She added, “It made me feel as I was making a difference in not just those around me, but the world.”

Victoria Jones, a senior at , also interned with Project SEED under Peter Agris working on tRNA binding sites. Her project “Modification of Transfer Ribonucleic Acid (tRNA): The Binding of tRNA by YrdC, a Putative Threonyl-tRNA Transferase” earned her a spot in Beijing.

“Presenting research to an international audience was an amazing opportunity,” added Jones. “I’m glad we were provided with Chinese translators because of the difficulty explaining some concepts. I did note that many of the delegates were not so interested in our projects solely, but in its effects on humanity and the ‘big picture.’”

While in Beijing, Jones was enamored by the celebrity status given to science. “When we stepped off the bus, TV reporters and photographers were snapping our pictures like we were famous,” she wrote in a blog post.

A few days later Jones wrote the she enjoyed having the “rock star” treatment.

“The highlight of my afternoon was when I autographed my business cards for a few kids. I had been doing this all day, but suddenly this time I was instantly inundated with requests,” she explained. “Soon, I ran out of cards and had to hastily rip out nicely-decorated paper from my journal. I just signed my name and put USA underneath – and they acted like they were going to frame it.”

Victoria Melbourne, also a senior at Wake Early College of Health and Sciences and a Project SEED intern at NCSU, likes to work with her hands. At first she wanted to be a biomedical engineer, but during her sophomore year she interned with Dr. Carla Mattos for Project SEED and found a passion for science and biochemistry.

While presenting her work in Beijing, Melbourne received an award for the Most Creative Research Project in Engineering by the Chinese judges.

“Presenting my work in front of an international audience was amazing,” she said. “It was great to watch the facial expressions of the other students. Most were surprised that a high school student was conducting cancer research, or Chelsea’s research on drug addiction. It was a time to share my research with others interested in science and learning and also to learn about what other countries around the world are working on.”

During her junior year, Shalini Chudasama was accepted into the , which tries to encourage high school students to consider a career in the life sciences. Now a senior at the , her winning project “Heparin Forms Macromolecular Complexes with Protamine and Lysozyme” was conducted with the assistance of Dr. Gowthami Arepally at
.

Chudasama also was surprised at the attention the competitors received. “It’s interesting how many journalists and reporters were there for this science competition, and how much pomp and ceremony was involved (as compared to a U.S. science competition),” she wrote in her blog. “We’d see all those cameras for a sports game, but never a science fair.”

This is the fourth year that students from North Carolina represented the United States at the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition. are available for future competitions.

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