Mass Academy Students Head to National Science Symposium

Two Juniors to Present Research After Winning Regional Competition
April 28, 2015

Two juniors at the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at WPI will present their research and compete against 230 students nationwide at a science and humanities symposium in Maryland after winning top honors on the regional level.

Karthik Karnik's oral presentation on his project, "Juggling Braids: A Novel Algorithmic Model Linking the Braid Group to Siteswaps," placed first among the top five winners at the Southern New England Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (SNE JSHS) at the University of New Hampshire in March. Amol Punjabi placed second with a presentation on his STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) project, "Rethinking Drug Discovery: New Algorithms for Virtual Drug Screening."

Mass Academy is a co-educational public school of excellence that enrolls academically accelerated 11th and 12th graders.

Of the five high school winners at the regional competition, Karnik, of Westborough, Mass., and Punjabi, of Northborough, Mass., are the only two who will present research at the national JSHS in Hunt Valley, Maryland, April 29-May 2, as part of their all-expenses-paid trip.

For his research paper and presentation, Karnik earned the First Place Oral Presentation Award: a $2,000 scholarship. Punjabi won a $1,500 scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force).

The Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS) Program promotes original research and experimentation in the sciences, engineering, and math at the high school level. JSHS is a collaborative effort with the research arm of the Department of Defense and administered in cooperation with colleges and universities nationwide.

Mass Academy director Michael G. Barney said Karthik’s and Amol’s ingenuity combined with their STEM project-based learning is a winning combination. "Karthik and Amol are extremely bright, motivated students who are tapping into new ideas and technologies that could one day change many lives for the better."

Initially, Karnik and Punjabi were nominated by Mass Academy teachers Maria Borowski and Judith Sumner, respectively, to submit papers for judging by SNE JSHS. The students were among the top five selected to give oral presentations at the regional event in New Hampshire.

"When I first submitted my project I was amazed to hear that I was chosen as an oral presenter," Karthik said. "Then I was honored to have taken first place at the regional symposium, and I am excited for the national level symposium." In his project, he developed an algorithm for generating the number of crossings in the braids corresponding to juggling patterns. He also arrived at various key results and made progress toward an open problem in mathematics.

Punjabi, in his work looking at new algorithms for virtual drug screening, was trying to develop computer programs that can accurately predict whether a molecule is a potential drug against a particular target. He was able to design two statistical algorithms that worked together to identify the first known inhibitor of a cancer-causing protein. He said his computational approach can make the first step of drug discovery faster and less expensive. "I'm looking forward to sharing my work with Department of Defense researchers and hearing their perspective on it," he said.

Borowski said both pieces of research are forward-thinking projects. "Amol's project on mapping cancer proteins is one of the most sophisticated science projects that I have seen," she said. "Karthik is able to present his complex work on juggling probabilities in a clear, straightforward style."

About Mass Academy

Mass Academy is a public, co-educational school of excellence that enrolls about 100 academically accelerated 11th and 12th graders. Math and science are emphasized within a comprehensive, interactive academic program. The rigor of the junior year classes exceeds high school honors and AP, emphasizing depth over breadth, engaging students in project-based learning, and more than 1,100 hours of instruction. Seniors complete a full year of college, enrolling in classes at WPI, a nationally ranked university, thus making the Academy the only public school in Massachusetts whose students attend a private university full time as seniors in high school. The Academy is a collaborative effort among the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the high schools of Massachusetts.