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New Navigation Method for Space Robots Earns Top Honors for Research Students

Months of dedication and hard work in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) paid off tonight for three students named National Finalists in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, the nation's premier research competition.

A new method to help robots navigate in space earned top honors and the $3,000 Individual scholarship for Kensen Shi of College Station, Texas. Mathematics research with potential applications in nanotechnology won the $6,000 Team scholarship for Jonathan Tidor and Rohil Prasad of Lexington, Massachusetts.

The students presented their research this weekend to a panel of judges from The University of Texas at Austin, host of the Region 2 Finals. They are now invited to present their work on a national stage at the National Finals in Washington, DC, December 1-4, 2012, where $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including two top prizes of $100,000. The Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board.

"These students have invested time, energy and talent in tackling challenging scientific research at a young age," said Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation. "The recognition they have won today demonstrates that engagement in STEM is an investment well worth making."

The Winning Individual

Kensen Shi, a senior at A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas, won the individual category and a $3,000 college scholarship for his computer science project entitled, Lazy Toggle PRM: A Single-Query Approach to Motion Planning.

"Robots in the future will assist in many tasks, such as search-and-rescue missions, assembly lines and even space exploration," explained competition judge Dr. Inderjit Dhillon, Professor of Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. "Navigating in space riddled with obstacles can be highly complex. This student's project develops a new method for robot navigation that is faster and more effective for certain kinds of obstacles. Mr. Shi did an incredible job in developing an algorithm, implementing it, and experimentally verifying that it was highly effective in various environments. This work is at the level of a strong and independent graduate student."

Mr. Shi's passion for computer science led him to approach several computer science professors at Texas A&M University to find a mentor for his research. Dr. Nancy Amato invited him to join her Parasol Laboratory, which focuses on the motion planning problem. "The most challenging aspect of my project was figuring out how I could implement my proposed algorithm to work with the thousands of lines of existing code in the lab's Motion Planning Library," Mr. Shi said.

Mr. Shi has won honors in a variety of mathematics and science competitions. As Texas American Regional Mathematics League Gold Team captain, he led his team to 13th place nationally. He placed 21st nationally in the USA Computing Olympiad Gold Division and was a US National Chemistry Olympiad finalist. He is also an accomplished pianist, having won numerous awards in the Houston Forum Young Artists Piano Competition. Mr. Shi aspires to become a professor and researcher in computer science.

The Winning Team

Jonathan Tidor and Rohil Prasad, juniors at Lexington High School in Lexington, Massachusetts, won the team category and will share a $6,000 scholarship for their mathematics project entitled, New Results in Staged Self-Assembly of Wang Tiles.

"The team explored self-assembly, the spontaneous assembly of complex structures from a collection of basic shapes," said competition judge Dr. Cristina Caputo, Lecturer, Department of Mathematics, The University of Texas at Austin. "They found optimal ways to create systems of particles that assemble themselves into a wide variety of structures. Their results could have real-world applications in nanotechnology and DNA computing. This team's project incorporates math, science and technology, and we are happy to send them to the Nationals."

Mr. Tidor is captain of the math team and Science Bowl team at his high school. Outside of academics, he enjoys playing the piano. He first became interested in math because of his brother. "In elementary school I couldn't wait to be older so that I could do all the cool math that he was doing," he said. Mr. Tidor expects to pursue a career related to mathematics or physics.

Mr. Prasad is a member of the Science Bowl team and volunteers with his middle school's math team. He is also a black belt in Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do. Mr. Prasad aspires to work in a mathematics-related field. "I enjoy the intense problem solving aspects of it, in addition to how beautiful many things are in mathematics," he said. The team's mentor on their project was Jesse Geneson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Regional Finalists

The remaining regional finalists each received a $1,000 scholarship. Regional Finalists in the individual category were:

  • Henry Lin, Caddo Parish Magnet High School, Shreveport, Louisiana
  • Stanley Palasek, Sonoran Science Academy, Tucson, Arizona
  • Diana Ruan, Bellaire Senior High School, Bellaire, Texas
  • Louis Tao, Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, Natchitoches, Louisiana

Team Regional Finalists were:

  • Ravi Jagadeesan, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire, and Nihal Gowravaram, Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, Acton, Massachusetts
  • Avira Som, Cypress Falls High School, Houston, Texas, and Benjamin Tu, Clements High School, Sugar Land, Texas
  • Jesse Zhang, Fairview High School, Boulder, Colorado, and Elaine Lin, Seminole High School, Sanford, Florida
  • Ziling Zhou, Belmont High School, Belmont, Massachusetts, and William Kuszmaul, Lexington High School, Lexington, Massachusetts

The Siemens Competition
Launched in 1998, the Siemens Competition is the nation's premier science research competition for high school students. 2,255 students registered to enter the Siemens Competition this year for a total 1,504 projects submitted. 323 students were named semifinalists and 93 were named regional finalists, representing 25 states. Entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists at six leading research universities which host the regional competitions: California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Notre Dame and The University of Texas at Austin.

Source: http://www.siemens-foundation.org/

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