Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sriharshita Musunuri a big winner at international Intel science competition

A science-minded freshman from the Mill Creek area won big at the Super Bowl of science and engineering competitions.

Say the following out loud: Application of Tetrahedrite and Magnesium Silicide in a Novel Thermoelectric Unicouple to Generate Electricity from Industrial Waste Heat.

Few of us can make it through that phrase in one breath, let alone know what it means. But for one high-school freshman from the Mill Creek area, it is much more than just a string of 18 words. It is the title of her science project, which earned her a trip across the country for the prestigious international competition where she emerged a winner in various categories.

Sriharshita Musunuri, 15, received the $5,000 Best in Category award in the Physical Energy group at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which took place in Pittsburgh last week.

Musunuri also won a separate $3,000 first-place award for the Physical Energy group, $3,000 in stock from United Technologies Corporation, and the Innovation Exploration Award, which will take her to Pasadena, Calif., to present her research at Caltech Institute of Technology.

That’s a big achievement for someone currently finishing her first year at Jackson High School in Mill Creek. The annual Intel competition — featuring 1,700 students from more than 75 nations — is one of the world’s most competitive.

Andy Sevald, a teacher at Musunuri’s high school, called it the “freaking Super Bowl.”

Musunuri joined Jackson High’s Science Research and Engineering Club in September with a desire to create a device that converts industrial waste heat into energy.

“There’s a lot of waste that’s being lost in the environment, and there’s not a lot that’s being done to recover it, so that sparked my interest,” she said.

Through her research, Musunuri came up with the idea to combine two materials used to produce electricity: tetrahedrite and magnesium silicide. By creating a temperature differential, a voltage could be created that can then lead to energy.

“This hadn’t really been done before,” she said.

With Sevald as her adviser and help from centers such Alphabet Energy and the UW Washington Nanofabrication Facility, Musunuri was able to gather the necessary tools to build her project and gather data.

“She was reading into this stuff before school even started,” Sevald said. “This is quite a ninth-grader.”

After winning second place overall at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair in March and a silver medal at the I-SWEEEP science fair in Houston in May, Musunuri was invited to attend the Intel competition.

Along with the prizes she received, her win means that Washington state’s fair and Jackson High will also each get a $1,000 grant. Sevald said Jackson High will use its $1,000 for field trips, materials and transportation to future competitions.

Musunuri plans to save part of her earnings for college, or to help her do future research.

Several other Seattle-area finalists competed at the Intel competition, too.

Mahalaxmi Elango of Interlake High School in Bellevue won $1,000 in the “Computational Biology and Bioinformatics” group. Rosemichelle Marzan, Cameron Beardsley and Hyrum Bock of Northwest Nuclear Consortium in Federal Way earned $500 in the “Physics and Astronomy” category.

Sonia Murthy, Ethan Perrin and Sophia Tevosyan from Nikola Tesla STEM High School in Redmond won $1,000 in the “Environmental Engineering” group. They were also awarded $1,000 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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