From left: Spencer Perkins, Matt Spencer and Madeline Dubelier
Spencer Perkins, Madeline Dubelier and Matt Spencer, seniors in The Potomac School's Science and Engineering Research Center program, were awarded first, third and fourth place respectively at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium regional finals, held at Georgetown University in March. All three students will present their research at the JSHS National Symposium, in Dayton, Ohio, during the last week of April.
For more than two years, Perkins, Dubelier and Spencer have been conducting independent, college-level research projects in conjunction with Potomac faculty and outside experts.
Spencer was the competition’s top finisher for his work developing a new coating for nanowires used in photoelectrochemical fuel cells, which are solar cells that produce electrical energy and generate clean water in the process of electrolysis. His approach will help to stabilize the nanowires and maintain efficiency of the solar cells and has the potential to greatly reduce the overall cost of solar energy systems.
Meanwhile, Dubelier earned third place for her work on a robotic hand with touch sensors and double flex technology that allows the user to form a pinch grip. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT THINK Scholars Program helped fund the project, enabling her to acquire many of the components for her prototype. With the funding, she was able to incorporate sensory feedback and remote control into her design, which has potential applications in the surgical field and the defense industry.
Finally, Spencer finished fourth for his research on bioremediation, a waste-management technique that involves the use of organisms to remove or neutralize pollutants. Spencer was able to show that specific types of fungi can break down polyurethane particles while producing neither carbon dioxide nor methane; thus, the process has the potential to bioremediate plastic waste without producing byproducts that are harmful to the environment.
Potomac science teacher and SERC program advisor Dr. Isabelle Cohen notes, "All of our students displayed great professionalism throughout the competition. Their presentations and their interaction with the judges and professors reflected the level of expertise that they have developed in their respective areas of research.”