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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest High students excel in Science Olympiad, U of U Science & Engineering Fair

May 29, 2022 01:54PM ● By Justin Adams

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In her first year of teaching and advising her science club members, Hillcrest biology teacher Zahra Barkley couldn’t be more proud of not only her students’ successes, but also of their initiative and drive.

“We have a group of really intelligent, driven and initiative-taking students,” she said. “Our students had success at science fair, and we battled and overcame some obstacles with Science Olympiad to do well there too. I was taken back by how awesome they did with everything that had been thrown at them.”

Six Hillcrest High students independently competed at the University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair, all of them placing and two earned special awards.

In addition, two juniors Sowmya Paritala and Saisha Vankayalapati teamed up and were awarded an invitation to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering fair that invites 1,750 scientists from 63 countries, regions and territories around the world.

At the state Science Olympiad, 14 team members took fourth place out of 17 teams competing.

The students all are part of the school’s science club that also offered noncompetitive activities this year, including guest speakers and a documentary night.

Weeks after the University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair, where Paritala and Vankayalapati got second in Medicine, Health Sciences and Biomedical with their entry, “Development of Novel, Selective, Orally Available Small Molecule CDK-9 Inhibitors for Prostate Cancer Therapy - Mechanistic studies,” the two were preparing to travel to Atlanta in May to present at ISEF.

The basis of their project stemmed from working with a compound the Huntsman Cancer Institute developed specifically to treat prostate cancer.

“We conducted preliminary trials to see where the compound works with invitro cell lines, Paritala said. “We shadowed there some of the last two years. I was interested in shadowing there because of the cancer research, specifically I was intrigued how they treat cancers.”

Paritala said that through the experience, she learned how “meticulous lab work is and how important every single detail is important. The smallest of mistakes can have very big impact especially when you’re dealing with such small concentrations of compounds.”

At the April state Science Olympiad, Barkley said there was a lot of moving parts not just because of being a new adviser with a new club president in junior Priyanka Mathews, but with changing events and information.

“We pulled in the parking lot after competing at state at SUU (Southern Utah University) at 10 p.m. and I told my team, ‘I’m so proud of you all. I don’t think you get enough credit for everything you’ve stepped up and done.’”

Mathews and Barkley prepared study sessions. Individuals created their own event materials.

“Priya really took a lot of initiative with the team and club this year,” she said. “We have a really intelligent group of kids here at Hillcrest who are really involved in their academics. That reflected in their events, even the trial events. We did phenomenally; it was great to get fourth with less than a full team.”

The team also competed at two regional tournaments.

“I’m really excited what we’ll be able to accomplish next year now that we know more of what’s going on and can be organized to hold practice events,” Barkley said. “We’ll have experienced students who can help build up their events and help younger students.”

Mathews, who was accepted to Clark Scholars Program to do research at Texas Tech this summer, competed in both Science Olympiad and at the U of U Science & Engineering Fair.

In Cedar City, she teamed up with senior Ryan Chen to place first in experimental design. Then she paired with senior Selena Yu to grab third in home horticulture and junior Ruth Woodland to get bronze in cell biology.

At the science fair, she placed third in biology and microbiology division with her entry, “Identifying Lead Compounds for Cyanobacterial Quorum Sensor Inhibitors for Use in Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Control through Deep Learning Methods.” She also was special award winners with the Stockholm Junior Water Prize and GENIUS Olympiad.

Mathews also reflected on Hillcrest’s year with the science club.

“I tried to diversify what all we do in science club; I wanted to expand all aspects, make it more inclusive. We welcomed students who just wanted to do activities as well as those who wanted to compete with Science Olympiad or science fair. I just tried to get the ball in motion. Next year, I want to get it rolling more.”

Other Hillcrest University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair winners included: sophomore Aarav Parkih, first place in earth and environmental sciences, and American Meteorological Society and GENIUS Olympiad special award-winner; senior Warren Ellsworth, second place in physics, astronomy and math; and junior Jayashabari Shankar, third place, computer science and applied computational methods; and sophomore Vishwa Murugappan, fourth place, computer science and applied computational methods.

Additional Hillcrest Science Olympiad state winners: Woodland and senior Lucas Bolster, first, agricultural science; sophomore Evie Pendleton and senior Gigi Liu, first, botany; juniors Swayam Sapkal and Abigail Slama-Catron, second, in solar power; Chen and sophomore Ivan Chen, second, in trajectory; and sophomore Dheeraj Vislawath and junior Akash Chandrashekar, second, in wright stuff.