3 OC middle schoolers named finalists in national STEM competition

Three Orange County teens were recently named as some of the most promising middle school STEM students in the country.

Sebastian Rae Alexis from Sierra Vista Middle School in Irvine, Clara Choi from Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana and Hailey Miya Van from Jeffrey Trail Middle School in Irvine have been recognized as three of the top 30 finalists to compete in Broadcom MASTERS.

Billed as the nation’s premier science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — competition, Broadcom MASTERS seeks to inspire young scientists, engineers and innovators who will solve complex challenges of the future.

Sebastian, Clara and Hailey were selected from over 1,800 entrants who come from 28 schools and 15 states across the nation. Along with taking home a $500 cash prize, they will compete for over $100,000 in experiential awards and prizes during a virtual competition scheduled to take place from Oct. 22 through Oct. 28.

Here’s a bit more information on each of the finalist’s projects (project summaries courtesy of the Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science).

Sebastian Rae Aelxis

Sebastian Rae Alexis, Sierra Vista Middle School, Irvine Unified School District

“Quantifying the effectiveness of lockdown measures using effective reproduction number (Rt) of SARS-CoV2”

Project background: California’s COVID-19 safety measures called for a lockdown, but sparked protests by those who argued that they were not effective and were pointless. Sebastian, often called Sebe, decided to search for scientific evidence to see if the county lockdown was working. After doing research, he stumbled upon a mathematical model using an effective reproduction number.” Its starting point measures the initial rate of virus spread in the population and then changes as time passes and the virus does or does not reproduce.

Clara Choi, Orange County School of the Arts, Santa Ana

Clara Choi

“EEG study of virtual learning demonstrates worsened learning outcomes and higher mirror neuron activation”

Project background: Clara’s dream came true when she was accepted into the intensive training program at the San Francisco Ballet School, which was taught online because of the pandemic. To her surprise, she found it difficult to learn the choreography. So, Clara, who is also interested in neuroscience, decided to find out if the brain might react differently to virtual and in-person learning. She read an article about ballet dancers and mirror neurons, which are brain cells that react when a particular action is performed and also when it is only observed. She then decided to study if the activation of mirror neurons differed in virtual and in-person dance training.

Hailey Miya Van, Jeffrey Trail Middle School, Irvine Unified School District

Hailey Miya Van

“Multi-stressor analysis of carbon dioxide on oceanic ecosystems: using climate change modeling to study hypoxia and acidification”

Project background: Hailey is interested in the marine environment, specifically aquatic chemistry and how human processes have led to unnatural, potentially deadly conditions in the ocean ecosystem. In particular, she was intrigued by hypoxia, a dangerous low oxygen condition. To try to predict future hypoxia levels, Hailey studied global climate models, which can simulate large, complex processes in the ocean, atmosphere and land. She believes that society should prepare for the eventual impacts of climate change, while also doing everything possible to reduce them.

Additional information about each of the finalists and their projects can be found in the 2021 Broadcom MASTERS finalist program.