Earlier this month 40 finalists competed in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Within that group, four promising LatinX students showcased projects that took on some of the world’s larger problems. These young men and women have become an inspiration to a community that is underrepresented in the STEM workforce.
According to the Pew Research Center, today the Hispanic community accounts for about 16% of the total workforce in the United States. However, out of the 11 million people working in U.S. STEM fields that number drops to 7%. Underrepresentation can cause younger generations to sometimes feel unwelcome or unworthy of pursuing an education in STEM.
Below find four students who are inspiring LatinX role models who clearly demonstrate that with the right support, education and tools, anyone with ambition and determination can change the world through science and engineering.
Rebecca Monge, Carmel High School, Carmel, NY
Rebecca is a first-generation American-Latina. In her project she studies how the polar areas of the Earth are warming at a faster rate compared to the rest of the planet. Growing up in dense urban environments, her parents worked hard to give her opportunities to appreciate nature. Whenever she was outside she would catch frogs, go on hikes and partake in many other activities that nurtured her love of the environment. She began her study of climate change as a way of giving back to nature.
The idea for Rebecca’s project came to her when she learned about large-scale temperature changes that were taking place in the world’s coldest locations. To examine the mechanics of this phenomenon, she used novel programming services and climate models from the 6th phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. In doing so, she discovered that parts of Norway and Greenland may be drivers of polar amplification.
Rebecca was also motivated by wanting to represent her community in STEM. She says, “Growing up, whenever I researched scientists for school projects, I struggled to find women that looked like me. Because of this, part of me began to believe there was no place for me in STEM. Years later, I realized this idea was completely wrong. I hope that younger LatinX students = see me as proof that we don’t just have a place in STEM, but we are STEM. The world might try to convince us otherwise, but if there’s one thing that the LatinX community is good at, it’s changing the world for the better.”
Rebecca wants to expand her research to other aspects of global warming in the future and is planning on double majoring in comparative race and ethnicity studies with environmental concentrations in college.
Michael Gomez, Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, NJ
For Michael’s project, he chose to study an anti-inflammatory drug known as Celecoxib. He selected this drug because he recognized its potential in treating pigmentation conditions in human skin. He used wet lab procedures pre-Covid-19, and then followed up with dry lab procedures afterward. The results of his experiments showed that high doses of Celecoxib can increase pigmentation and lower doses can decrease pigmentation.
The motivation for this project came after Michael noticed hyperpigmentation scars on his skin that were a result of acne. He wanted to find a way to tre
at these scars as a way to boost his own self-esteem and the self-esteem of others.
Michael tells Forbes, “I believe there is an underrepresentation of Latinos in scientific academia, and I am proud to be of Latino representation at the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Getting to this point did not happen overnight. It took years of hard work and dedication to build up a strong science education. Michael advises fellow students and his LatinX peers: “Do not give up. Especially within the Latino community, there are a lot of us that are first-generation. While our parents may not have a complete understanding of the American education system, do not be discouraged. Take it upon yourself to be successful, and no obstacle will get in your way. Make our people proud.”
Michael hopes to pursue an MD-PhD and study the therapeutic effects of cannabis — a plant that he considers understudied as relates to scarring, pigmentation and wound healing.
Tali Finger, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, Miami, FL
Tali is of Brazilian descent and she chose to study the spectrum of repetitive or compulsive behaviors for her project. To accomplish this, she used machine learning-based research to study the genes linked to that spectrum. She found microRNAs that controlled networks of the genes central to her chosen spectrum. Before her discovery, no microRNAs had ever been identified for these disorders. As she puts it, “I was able to outline an evolutionary model featuring the progression of such behaviors from simple motor stereotypes to extremely complex mental compulsions based on the expression of genes implicated in the disorders in different regions of the human brain.”
Tali was inspired to study this subject after learning about the overwhelming number of suicides in America. Around 90% of those deaths are said to be related to mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She was also inspired by Marcelo Gleiser, a Brazilian theoretical physicist and Dartmouth professor who inspires young Brazilians to pursue STEM.
In the future, Tali wants to pursue a major in biomedical engineering and an MD-PhD to maximize her contributions to society through medicine and science.
Edgar Sosa, Greenwich High School, Greenwich, CT
An immigrant from Guatemala, Edgar’s project was focused on the creation of a foliar treatment for a fungus called Hemileia vastatrix, or coffee rust. This fungus has been killing coffee plants in Guatemala for several years now, and in some areas has devastated up to 80% of crop yields. Edgar witnessed this firsthand in 2013 when his family lost their farm. Afterward, they decided to move to the United States where he started attending Greenwich High School. There, he began his research under the mentorship of Andrew Bramante who saw a lot of potential in the young scientist.
Edgar’s research focused on the use of metal oxide nanoparticles like copper-zinc and manganese as a pretreatment. To complete his research in the lab he had to use a model fungus called Alternaria because coffee rust is not allowed in the U.S. To test this pretreatment, Edgar sprayed coffee plants with copper nanoparticles, waited till the next day, and then sprayed them with samples of Alternaria. He found that the copper particles were able to stop the fungus from spreading to the plant and killing it. Furthermore, the copper provided an additional 11-13% growth in the coffee plants that were treated. Edgar also observed the possibility that the fungus was creating a biofilm that cut off the plant’s carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange — therefore choking it to death.
When asked why he chose this subject, Edgar said, “I am not only doing this for my family but also for all of the people who depend on coffee production. Coffee helps farmers like my family to access a better lifestyle. Guatemala is known as a really poor country that faces many problems and coffee plays a big role in its economy. Therefore, not only do the coffee producers benefit from the production of coffee, the entire country benefits from it.”
Edgar has plans to move forward with his research while attending college. Also, when we are allowed to travel overseas again safely, he would also like to try his treatment method on actual coffee rust in the coffee fields of the southeast corner of Guatemala, in his hometown of Esquipulas, where coffee farming is the main source of income.
These four young men and women will no doubt go on to make great progress in their chosen fields. While they are doing so, they will also encourage others from the LatinX community to do that same. The future scientists of the world rely on inspiration from the generations that came before them. This is why representation matters in any field.
As Edgar Sosa put it, “To any young student who would like to get involved in science, I’d like to say that science is a great tool available for us, and when used properly we can significantly change the world and solve the biggest issues around the globe. Science is not about being smart, if you are curious enough and work hard, nothing can stop you.”
This article is auto-generated by Algorithm Source: www.forbes.com