Six projects made by Midwood students made it into the semifinals for the NYC Metro Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) held virtually at York College this February. Senior Bintia Keita won First Place in Engineering, earning a spot as one of five students representing New York City at the 60th National JSHS. She brought her robot "Emo" to Albuquerque, New Mexico, this April.
"The competition was amazing from day one," said Keita. "My delegation was full of awesome, really smart people from New York City. It was great to be around people who were motivated and dedicated and brilliant in the field that they were studying. It was amazing."
The JSHS is a U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored high school STEM competition. The National Symposium brings together 245 high school students who qualified at regional symposiums held at partnered universities and organizations nationwide.
Emo is Keita's robotics toy for children with autism, designed to improve their interactions and emotional interpretation. Emo's screen is used to play guessing games with three levels of difficulty: emoji, cartoon, and realistic.
After the child successfully matches the emoji to the emotion, Emo uses positive reinforcement through confetti, animations, and movement. Through a slow evolution, autistic children who can identify the correct emotion can better recognize it in a live person.
Currently, Keita is working on making Emo mobile and is thinking about sending it to different clinics.
Semifinalists Michelle Yang '22 and Zitong Liu '22 worked on veganism and plant-based alternatives to meat after they noticed plant-based meat as the only option on the shelves after meat shortages in Ohio supermarkets during the pandemic.
They cooked and tested multiple batches and recipes and assessed each recipe's environmental impact, computing factors such as water consumption and atmospheric carbon release. "I think the public should be educated on the benefits of vegan meat," said Yang.
Being able to share findings with the public is one of the fun parts of the JSHS, she added. "It's just really exciting to share our project with other schools," said Yang. "Most of my group were from Bronx Science, and the other one was from Stuy[vesant]. It was interesting seeing their projects and then secretly comparing them with mine."
Samarpreet Singh '22 ran an experiment to find a relationship between social media use and a person's levels of optimism or pessimism. He found that students who excessively use social media are more likely to be pessimistic.
Singh found that the Midwood student body averages around six hours of social media use per day. Previous studies recommended 30 minutes to be a healthy amount. "I feel like in today's generation, the repercussions have to be considered," said Singh. "Midwood students specifically need to lower their social media use."
Lian Hao Zheng '22, working with seniors Benny Dong and Jason Wu, conducted a survey-based study to find the effect of gratitude on a person's mental and physical health, specifically on sleep quality and depression.
"Gratitude is the ability to stay in the present," said Zheng, "to be attentive to your surroundings, to be grateful for the things that are happening around you. Being a more empathetic person is definitely the way to increase your gratitude."
He found that increased gratitude leads to lower levels of depression and higher levels of sleep quality. "If there is a significant correlation, then it may have a potential use as a medical treatment," said Zheng.
Midwood also had five other semifinalist projects at the NYC Metro JSHS.
Zheng said it felt great becoming a semifinalist. "I'm happy that this topic is being recognized, as well as my follow-up study about mindfulness," he said. "I'm just happy both of them got the grant from NYT, which shows people actually care."
Muhammad Sharjeel '22 studied the difference between extroverts and introverts and their homework behavior. Homework behavior was measured by time, effort, and performance.
"When you think of extraversion, like how social someone is, you wouldn't connect that to homework, so that's why it was interesting," said Sharjeel.
He conducted an experiment using questionnaires and an experimental implicit association test, both testing which side of the introversion / extraversion spectrum the participants were on based on their identification-related words (shyness), phrases, and questions.
In his first study, he found a weak negative correlation but no correlation between extraversion and homework time in his second study. He also found that procrastination and homework performance had no correlation with extraversion. Using these findings might help teachers better understand how students learn, he explained.
Enaya Ahmad '22 studied the "other-race effect": how people are better able to recognize faces from their own race than faces from other races. She sought to answer the question "Is there a presence of the other-race effect in teenagers, and is the trend similar to infants and adults?"
Keita was one of five students from NYC who got to attend the national symposium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"When I walked outside, I was able to remember faces of my own race and not other faces," said Ahmad. "Sometimes I misidentify my white neighbors as somebody else, which is something that I found odd because it didn't happen with me for other South Asians."
Ahmad showed African American, White, and Asian faces to people and later made them find the original face that was shown with two altered versions of that face.
Those who lived in a less racially diverse neighborhood were better at recognizing their own race than other races. The other-race effect was present only in 14-16-year-olds; 17-18 year-olds recognized other races better, she found.
Within the behavioral psychology category, Ahmad was with nine other students, all of whom were from Bronx Science. "It was definitely intimidating, but I felt proud to be there, representing Midwood," said Ahmad. "That was a really proud moment because I put a lot of effort into my project."
"I thought we had really good results this year," said Mr. Glenn Elert, the research teacher. "We did really well because Bintia got to go to nationals, and that hasn't happened in – it might be 10 years. So that's an awesome accomplishment on Bintia's part and something she should really be proud of."
All the finalists recommended the three-year science research class at Midwood. "Colleges want to see you do something that requires independence, creativity, and responsibility," said Mr. Elert. "The thing we need are people who are interested in working on a long-term project on their own."
"We had an alumnus who graduated in the '80s, Fritz Francois," said Mr. Elert. "He is now the dean of admissions at the NYU School of Medicine. He came back, and he was talking to our students, and he said, 'We routinely reject people from the NYU School of Medicine who have 4.0 averages because they don't have anything else.' A research class sets you apart."