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Chappaqua student heads to science contest finals, $100K in reach
Jiayi Peng has been drilled by doctors of physics and molecular biology. The Horace Greeley High School senior has presented her research to her teachers and her parents so many times that she can tell when their eyes are glazing over a little.
Her science research teacher, Trudy Gessler, is firm in her belief that Peng, of Chappaqua, has what it takes to win the $100,000 grand prize in Washington this weekend at the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. Peng is one of six students selected from contests nationwide.
"I'm being honest about this: She has a really, really good shot at winning this," Gessler said. "She can compete against anybody. She would be able to get up there and hold her own with graduates and post-docs."
Peng must not only have a winning project -- something she already proved at the regional competition -- but this weekend she must show poise and deep knowledge of her subject as she's questioned by professors at the competition.
"Personally, I think the question-and-answer session is pretty important, so the judges can gauge your background and what you know and what you don't know," Peng said.
Gessler said Peng knows her own research inside out and backward and that her approach to the project was brilliant. Peng created a computer model that shows how healthy nerve cells in the brain work, which can help researchers study the causes of disorders such as autism, Alzheimer's and epilepsy.
Peng's paper will be published in the peer-reviewed science journal, "Physica A," an accomplishment in itself.
All that stands between her and winning the competition are five other students and 26 minutes of presentations and questions.
What would Peng do if she wins $100,000? "Probably spend it on my college tuition and help my parents out," she said.
Winners will be announced via a live webcast at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.