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Young scientists earn international recognition for independent research

Materials science, embedded systems, physics and astronomy, and engineering mechanics projects win prizes from SPIE at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

25 May 2017

First Place winner Nicky Wojtania with judges

Judges congratulate first-place SPIE Special Award winner Nicky Wojtania at Intel ISEF 2017;
from left are John Tamkin, Wojtania, Pramod Butte, and Pang Yu Teng.

BELLINGHAM, Washington, and LOS ANGELES, California, USA — SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and more than 55 organizations representing a multitude of scientific disciplines distributed more than 300 awards, scholarships, internships, and scientific exploration opportunities to high school students at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) during the Special Awards Ceremony on 18 May in Los Angeles. The Intel ISEF is a program of the Society for Science and the Public and is the world's largest international pre-college science competition.

Winning students were ninth- through twelfth-graders who earned top prizes at local, regional, state, or national science fairs, gaining them entry in the 2017 Intel ISEF. Approximately 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories were awarded the opportunity to showcase their independent research and compete for on average $4 million in prizes.

The volunteer judging team for SPIE prizes included SPIE Senior Member John Tamkin (lead judge), CEO of Imaging Insights LLC, SPIE Early Career Professional Member Pang Yu Teng of the University of California, Los Angeles, and SPIE Member Pramod Butte of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

First place with a $2,000 SPIE prize was awarded to Nicky Wojtania of Plano West Senior High School, USA, for her project "Cellulose nanocrystals for security applications: embedding nonoptical signatures provided by nanoparticles into cellulose nanocrystal chiral nematic films."

She modified cellulose nanocrystals with nano- and other particles to provide both optical and nonoptical signatures, to create a new class of security features useful for currency and other printed media.

Wojtania was also the recipient of the European Union Contest for Young Scientists Award, a "Best of Category" award for materials science, and an honorable mention from the US National Security Agency Research Directorate.

Second place winner, Valerio Pagliarino

Valerio Pagliarino
Third place winner, Dominic Catanzaro

Dominic Catanzaro
Fourth place winner, Gareth Reid

Gareth Reid

Second place with a $1,500 prize was awarded to Valerio Pagliarino of I.I.S. Nicola Pellati, Italy, for his project "LaserWAN — laser broadband internet connections."

He designed and prototyped a fully functional high-bandwidth free-space laser communication system intended for installation on top of power line pylons, reducing isolation of rural areas. The system includes adaptive focusing optics to accommodate changes in weather.

Pagliarino, 17, also received an Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award for his prototype as well as the K. Soumyanath Memorial Award, the Qatar Foundation R&D Award, a special award from United Technologies Corpl, and the "Best of Category" prize in the embedded systems category.

Third place with an award of $1,000 went to Dominic Catanzaro, Cathedral Catholic High School in San Deigo, California, USA, for his project "Quick aligning telescopes."

He investigated alignment strategies of 2-element refractive telescopes both computationally and practically, devising an automated way to achieve collimation and reduce aberrations. His technique involved coupling interferometric wavefront errors using Zernike polynomials to drive actuators for wavefront aberration minimization. He compared his results with expected results from a double-pass optical design model using commercial software.

Fourth place with an SPIE award of $500 went to Gareth Reid of Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast, United Kingdom, for his project "Gaze: a low-cost digital optical device supporting education in developing countries."

He developed a low-cost microscope that uses a smartphone or tablet as a display device, which includes motor-driven focus and an ergonomic design while achieving very low cost — under $10 — for classroom environments.

Reid's project also received a third-place "Best of Category" award for engineering mechanics.

"We viewed more than 30 entries that included SPIE-related content across diverse fields including improvement of solar collection using bio-inspired structures (rose petals), a  smartphone-enabled ophthalmoscope that leveraged deep learning algorithms for disease identification, virtual displays, and more," Tamkin said. "It was great fun to experience how much these young people knew about their topic, and to encourage them to learn more about the world of photonics and optics."

Manu Prakash at Intel ISEF 2017

Speaker at the awards ceremony was Manu Prakash, inventor of a less-than-$1 origami-like
microscope that is distributed to extreme-resource settings for clinical applications.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves nearly 264,000 constituents from approximately 166 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2016, SPIE provided $4 million in support of education and outreach programs. www.spie.org


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