Ceres Connection fosters future scientists

Two high-school "bioengineers" who have proposed techniques that may someday be used by cancer researchers have had minor planets named in their honor by MIT Lincoln Laboratory's Ceres Connection program. These minor planets were discovered by a pair of ground-based electro-optical deep-space surveillance telescopes in Socorro, New Mexico, that are used in Lincoln Laboratory's LINEAR (for Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research) program.

Shivani Sud, a high-school senior from Durham, North Carolina, won first prize in the Intel Science Talent Search by developing a 50-gene model that analyzed the specific "molecular signatures" of tumors from patients with stage II colon cancer. She then used this information to identify those at higher risk for tumor recurrence and to propose potentially effective drugs for treatment. Kshitij Desai, a junior at the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions in Houston, Texas, bioengineered a virus that can make malignant cancer cells more readily observable in medical imaging. For this project, he received two second-place awards at the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, one from the Intel Foundation and one from the U.S. Air Force.

Shivani and Kshitij are just two of the many talented science students, and their teachers, whom the Ceres Connection has honored over the past seven years. The program encourages promising young scientists through its partnership with the Society for Science & the Public (SSP), which sponsors the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), and the SSP Middle School Program.

Ceres ceritificate

Each Ceres honoree receives a certificate (above), and a plot description and explanatory documentation of the minor planet named in his or her honor.


While the Ceres Connection formally recognizes the achievements of the finalists in the Intel STS and the first- and second-place award winners in the Intel ISEF, the program's more profound mission is to motivate young people to apply their curiosity and knowledge to research questions in science and mathematics. Students who participate in one of the Society for Science & the Public competitions advance their learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while gaining confidence in their ability to frame a problem, design an experiment, and analyze results.

Ariel Wexler, a senior at the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science in Worcester, Massachusetts, gained the experience the Ceres Connection desires for all competition participants. A Massachusetts representative to the 2008 Intel ISEF in Atlanta, Georgia, Ariel wrote on his school website, "There were a handful of amazing projects there. … There are 1500 projects at ISEF each year and the top 30% of each category place. I was absolutely thrilled when I placed third in the computer science category. It was an AMAZING week."

Ariel's project, "Parallel Computer Processing: An Emulation Model," focused on a major problem with current parallel processing systems—the scheduling and coordination of tasks. He approached the scheduling problem of parallel computation using a novel hardware feedback system. Such a hardware scheduler would provide the programmer with a much easier coding environment. The system architecture was modeled by a Java emulation detailed down to machine code level. Results showed high runtime speedup.

Ariel did not stop with a successful experience at the ISEF. "I was fortunate enough to follow up my International Science Fair experience with a short course on multicore programming through the MIT Professional Institute. It was a fantastic week in which I learned much more on the subject and enjoyed discussions with the professors and course participants."

As a third-place award winner, Ariel did not have a minor planet named in his honor, yet his experience illustrates why Lincoln Laboratory continues to promote science education through the Ceres Connection.

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