Three Long Island high schoolers — all inspired to clean up and prevent disastrous environmental oil spills — are among more than 100 young scientists selected nationally to exhibit their projects at the sixth annual White House Science Fair on Wednesday.
Kimberly Te and Christine Yoo, both of Manhasset, and Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, of Elmont, are expected to meet with President Barack Obama and showcase the projects that earned them recognition in some of the most prestigious nationwide science contests.
“I was just speechless,” said Te, recounting the telephone call alerting her of the invitation. “Christine was jumping up and down. . . . Then, we saw each other, we were both jumping up and down.”
Te and Yoo, both 17 and seniors at Manhasset Secondary School, were named grand-prize winners in the national Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology in December. They created an energy-producing device that can use naturally occurring bacteria, such as those found in mud and wastewater, to clean up oil spills.
Uwamanzu-Nna, also 17, became her school’s first national finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search in January. She is valedictorian of Elmont Memorial High School and has been accepted to all eight Ivy League colleges. Her project involved looking at the cement used in oil wells linked to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and developing a new cement design that would prevent future disasters.
“It was hard to keep all that excitement bottled in,” said Uwamanzu-Nna. “It is an honor to present my project to President Obama. I know it will be an invaluable experience.”
All of the young women were told about their invitation about a week and a half ago, but had to promise to only tell their parents, they said. Each is allowed to bring only one chaperone. Te will bring her father; Yoo will bring Alison Huenger, science research director at her Manhasset school.
“This is an absolute once in a lifetime opportunity, so I could not be happier for them,” Huenger said. “There are no words that describe what it’s like to see their hard work and their efforts pay off in a tremendous way.”
The event is an initiative the Obama administration began six years ago to promote science, technology, engineering and math among young people. The invited students range in age from kindergartners to high school seniors. This year’s fair is expected to feature projects that include using robots to clean the New York City subways, developing an Ebola virus diagnostic test and cancer detection and treatment studies.
Uwamanzu-Nna on Monday was already in Washington with a group from the Intel competition. On her schedule was a visit to Smithsonian Institution museums and a dinner sponsored by the nonprofit group Society for Science & the Public. She’ll visit the White House with the Intel group, but neither of her parents was expected to attend.
Uwamanzu-Nna has not yet decided which college she will attend. Te and Yoo declined to talk about colleges. They have a patent pending on their oil-spill cleanup device.
Students must commit to colleges by May 1.
“This month has been so overwhelming and I’m going to visit colleges when I’m not doing things like being in the White House Science Fair,” Uwamanzu-Nna said.
In the months since their respective competitions, all three students have attended conferences; local, state and national science fairs; and met with lawmakers, entrepreneurs and other top-level scientists, they said.
Going to the White House and presenting their research and ideas to the president is yet another important experience, they said.
“Kimberly and I were just trying to do the best we can on the project. “We had no idea that we would be able to accomplish this much this year,” said Yoo.
“It’s been a really exciting ride. Our main goal was just to learn and enjoy science,” said Te.