Highlights: JSHS Presentations and Lunch With Scientists

There were 83 Minnesota students who advanced from regional competitions to compete in the 49th annual North Central Regional Junior Science & Humanities Symposium (JSHS), held at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis on March 25. The JSHS is an annual competition sponsored by the research arm of the Department of Defense, with the aim to prepare and support students to contribute as future scientists and engineers.

Click here for a few photos from the day.

Five finalists were selected by judges to win an expense-paid trip to the National JSHS, to be held April 26-30 in San Diego, which brings together 400 participants. The top two finalists will present their original research at the National JSHS. The top three finalists win a total of $4,500 in tuition scholarships.

  • 5th place – Kerui Yang, “Effects of pH on polyvinyl alcohol behavior in aqueous solutions”
  • 4th place – Nathaniel Farmer, “Are you protected? Wearable mask fit monitor – Year 2”
  • 3rd place – Nikhil Marda, “On equal points separation by planar cell decompositions”
  • 2nd place – Manashree Padiyath, “Unleading the way: Remediation of lead-contaminated water with Coriandrum Savitvum (cilantro) biochar
  • 1st place – Harini Kethar, “A cost-effective, patient-friendly, and biocompatible treatment for chronic pain and peripheral nerve damage using genetically engineered ‘smart’ nanoparticles”


An annual tradition at JSHS is for the students to sit down for lunch with professional scientists to discuss everything from how they got where they are, to insights about STEM careers, to sharing stories of personal interests.

Lisa Trimble (right) is one such scientist who sat down with a table of students to discuss her roots in Georgia, where she wasn’t sure in high school what she wanted to do, yet went on to work in clinical research studying depression in patients with stage 4 melanoma. “When your face lights up talking about the work,” she told them, “that’s when you know you’re on the right track.”  She has traveled internationally to share research findings as a food microbiologist, and now works in emergency preparedness and food defense to understand the economical and psychological motivations of those who try to sabotage food at processing plants. She works with companies, as a member of a University of Minnesota team, to defend food security.

One of the students at the table was Emilia of St. Paul, whose research project in 2017 was to determine whether a micro-organism would survive in Martian soil to allow maize to grow. A challenge was creating Martian soil — she was able to order many parts needed from Amazon, but NASA analysis of Martian soil revealed that 17% of it consists of toxic components. She wasn’t able to replicate the soil exactly — a project she said she’s been interested in since 7th grade, “before The Martian movie came out” — but she also learned that, even without the toxic materials, the micro-organism could not thrive.

Guest speaker was Maria Gini, a robotics specialist at the University of Minnesota, who talked with the group about her work, which includes developing algorithms for robots to decide how to allocate tasks among themselves, explore unknown environments, work as a team in search and rescue operations, or navigate in dense crowds.

Other STEM specialists who sat down to talk with students included:

  • Dr. Carroll Arnett, biomedical
  • Dr. Jose Pablo Dundore-Arias, plant pathology
  • Dr. Josh Marrell, theoretical chemistry
  • Dr. Christina Smith, plant and microbial biology
  • Allison Haaning, Ph.D. candidate, agricultural genomes
  • Gary Caple, environmental health and safety, Medtronic
  • Dr. Kathy Mahan, pulmonary care medicine
  • Dr. Jason Owens, chemical engineering, Bechman Coulter
  • Ami Thompson, Ph.D. candidate, conservation biology/entomology
  • Dr. Abdullah Jaradat, agricultural research, U of M — Morris

Middle school paper presenters who stood out per grade level:
  • 6th grade -- Tryston Stark
  • 7th grade -- Rohan Desai-Hunt
  • 8th grade -- Grace Gleisner

2017 Presidential Award, for top papers in each of seven categories:
  • Life -- Harini Kethar“A cost-effective, patient-friendly, and biocompatible treatment for chronic pain and peripheral nerve damage using genetically engineered ‘smart’ nanoparticles”
  • Engineering & Technology -- Dillan Lein & Grayden Thompson, "Herding cattle with drones"
  • Physical Sciences -- Nikhil Marda, "On equal point separation by planar cell decompositions"
  • Medicine & Health -- Nathaniel Farmer, “Are you protected? Wearable mask fit monitor – Year 2”
  • Chemistry -- Pujan Patel, "A novel approach to prevent the spread of E. Coli. and other prominent bacteria in commonly touched surfaces"
  • Environmental Science -- Manashree Padiyath“Unleading the way: Remediation of lead-contaminated water with Coriandrum Savitvum (cilantro) biochar"
  • Mathematics & Computer Science -- Griffin Macris, "Polynomials in Z[x] and irrationality measure"