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May 14, 2014

Terre Haute South Vigo sends 3 to international science, engineering fair

TERRE HAUTE — For the first time in school history, three Terre Haute South Vigo students are representing the school at the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which is in Los Angeles this year.

Seniors Ryan Chung and Krishan Kumar and sophomore Tingyue (Rita) Cui are among 26 students representing Indiana. They qualified  at last month’s Hoosier State Science and Engineering Fair.

Three students qualifying for ISEF “is the most we’ve had” in South’s history, said Melanie Huber, South science department chairwoman who sponsors the research team and has accompanied them to Los Angeles.

This is the third time that Ryan Chung has qualified for ISEF; he presented his science research at the event in 2011 in Los Angeles and 2013 in Phoenix.  

Chung’s research has been a four-year  project.

It involves computer science applications  — first with music, then with birds and finally with a medical mobile application with the hope of helping and someday curing his grandmother, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He writes his own computer programs and then tests the programs.  

Last year, Chung won a first-place Grand Award. “This is an accomplishment that rarely occurs,” Huber said. “Very, very few students reach this level of competition.”

Only 25 percent of students who present their research at ISEF receive an award.  Only the top 2 percent receive a first-place Grand Award. In 2013, “Ryan came in second only to a student from Romania, who won the overall grand prize of $75,000,” Huber stated.

There are normally 1,600-plus students who present their research at the annual international science and engineering fair. These students “are among the best in the entire world,” Huber said.

Chung plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduation from South.

Kumar’s research is mathematical. He enjoys mathematics, and for the past two years has researched the discrete logarithm and the discrete Lambert in hopes of finding better methods of encrypting digital information. Huber explained that a practical application would be for security related to online banking or use of credit cards.

Kumar will attend the University of Pennsylvania.

Cui is researching computational chemistry. She is studying energy at the molecular level (energy models of simple carbon-hydrogen compounds). Her research was one of the top two sophomore projects at this year’s Hoosier Science and Engineering Fair at IUPUI April 5.

Judging at this year’s international science fair event was Wednesday, and Huber said they won’t know results until tonight or Friday.

“The students right now are having a wonderful time networking with 1,783 of the top high school science students from 70 countries around the world,” she stated in an email from Los Angeles. The three South Vigo students have toured the Mount Wilson observatory, known for its solar research, and on Tuesday afternoon, they listened to a panel of Nobel Laureates.

Judging of research projects was to last all day Wednesday.

Today, the three South Vigo students will have the opportunity to talk about their projects to some of the more than 5,000 Los Angeles students and teachers who will attend as part of a public visitation.

Huber said she enjoys working with the  students and anticipates their future achievements “will be beyond anything I could imagine right now.”

According to the Intel ISEF website, the event is the world’s largest pre-college science competition attended by “the world’s most promising young scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”

The young innovators represent the best of more than 7 million high school students around the globe who participated in science fairs this year, having won top honors at local, regional and national competitions to earn their place as finalists at Intel ISEF, according to the website.

The main event occurs when finalists present original research projects – including breakthrough technologies and potential solutions to some of the most daunting problems confronting humanity today – to panels of esteemed judges and to the public. Finalists vie for more than $5 million in prizes and scholarships.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or


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