From December 4-5, Kevin Ren (12), along with Canyon Crest Academy students Anlin Zhang (12) and Rachana Madhukara (9) attended the final round of 2017 Siemens Competition, taking home a $25,000 prize for their research on epidemics and how they spread.
The Siemens Competition is an annual national competition in math, science and technology for high school students. Founded in 1999, the competition was established to increase access to higher education for students gifted in STEM.
“You choose a topic or area of study and find a problem and try and solve it,” Ren said. “Even if you don’t solve it, it can still be submitted as research if you have substantial proof, and that’s what [my team] did.”
Ren, along with Madhukara and Zhang, moved through the four rounds of competition all the way to the finals, earning a team prize of $25,000 in scholarships. This year, over $500,000 in scholarships, including two top prizes of $100,000, were awarded.
Recognizing the role that social interactions and cliques play in the spread of disease, Ren’s team created a mathematical model to examine the spread of disease around the globe.
“Our topic was called ‘Epidemic Dynamics in Symmetric Modeling,’” Ren said. “Epidemics spread very quickly, and we were trying to analyze how they spread throughout human populations. We did this by modeling through graphs with individuals as vertices of the graph and edges to denote path of reflection.”
Out of the 1,861 projects, only 12 submissions (six teams and six individuals) advanced to the finals held at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The team was mentored by Dr. Laura Schaposnik of the University of Illinois, Chicago.
“Very few people get selected every year to be finalists and the competition is extremely high —with students doing research in very hot topics, for example cancer treatments, which can make pure mathematics seem less useful,” Schaposnik said. “I think getting to the finals, on a project that involved a big portion of pure mathematics, is one of the highest achievements one could imagine.”
Schaposnik first proposed the topic of infection spreading at the beginning of 2017. Later in the year, Ren and Madhukara joined the project and all three worked together to put out the final product.
“Just making the national competition was already an honor,” Ren said. “I received my announcement just before PE class. I was amazed that we even made it, and my teammates were similarly elated. This is the culmination of our hard work and I felt like it all paid off. It was a feeling of success.”
Ren hopes to use the money to venture further into STEM in college.