Concord Teen Among Finalists at BIO for International Science Prize
She wasn't one of the four cash prize winners, but Sumani Nunna, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, was one of the 15 finalists for the International BioGENEius Challenge, a major science competition for high school students.
And she did get a private audience from a proud North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper as he joined global life science leaders at the 2018 BIO International Convention in Boston.
Nunna, North Carolina’s lone finalist among entrants from around the U.S., Canada and Germany, lives in the Charlotte suburb of Concord.
The BioGENEius Challenge recognizes outstanding research in biotechnology. Nunna and the 14 other finalists showcased their research at the annual BIO event.
The Challenge provides young STEM innovators and entrepreneurs a venue to showcase their research and helps them build a long-term support system.
Sanjeev Kohli, a grade 11 Sir John A Macdonald Secondary School student from Waterloo, Ontario was the $7,500 grand prize winner.
Finalists who received high honors and a $1,000 prize include:
- Shloka Janapaty, Presentation High School, San Jose, California;
- Sriharshita Musunuri, Henry M. Jackson High School, Mill Creek, Washington;
- Tobias Stadelmann, Marta-Schanzenbach-Gymnasium Gengenbach, Gengenbach, Germany.
Nunna said she pursued the research based on inspiration from her mentor, David Dayton, Ph.D., during an internship she had last year at RTI International in Research Triangle Park. Her study is titled, “Increasing the Economic Viability of Biofuels By Recovering Methoxyphenols As Value-Added Bioproducts.”
Most of the 15 finalists were chosen from local contests held in North Carolina and a dozen other states/regions. These include: California Bay Area, Southern California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico (didn’t have a finalist this year), Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Research in three tracks
Students enter into one of three tracks: sustainability, environment (Nunna’s track), or healthcare. One finalist is chosen from each location.
For high school or home schooled students who do not attend a school in a state with a Local Challenge, there is an At-Large BioGENEius Challenge, submitted online, from which one additional finalist is chosen.
The U.S. finalists are then met by the winners of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada and BioGENEius Challenge Germany to compete at the International BioGENEius Challenge at the BIO International Convention.
The winners were named during the keynote at the 2018 BIO International Convention, which featured Robin Roberts, co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America. The competition enables students to mingle with the 15,000 attendees at the BIO International Convention, the leading biotechnology industry conference, which helps them gain valuable insights from leading biotech companies, scientists, leaders and innovators.
The student competitors were evaluated on the quality of their research in biomedical and environmental biotechnology, on their presentations, ability to handle questions regarding their research, and general scientific knowledge. In addition, each student’s research was judged on the potential commercial and practical applications of their project.
Her stated research objective is to “efficiently recover methoxyphenols and other phenolics as value-added bioproducts from biocrude while minimizing system and residue loss, maximizing separation efficiency, and maximizing phenolic concentration of the refined bioproducts in order to increase the economic viability of biofuels and combat reliance on harmful fossil fuels.”
Research seeks more effective processing of biofuels
Nunna was selected as a finalist because of the significance of her research, which she described as follows:
“There is a widespread reliance on harmful fossil fuels, and while the use of biofuels can combat this reliance, biofuels remain economically inviable.
“Biomass such as agricultural and construction waste can be converted to biofuel products through a process called catalytic fast-tail pyrolysis. Biocrude, the intermediate of fast-tail pyrolysis, contains a myriad of oxygenated phenolics, which can be recovered as specialty chemicals or as building blocks. These chemicals can be produced alongside biofuels to enhance the economic viability of biomass-to-liquid fuel technologies and subsequently garner a higher return on investment as it is being practiced in the petroleum industry.
“Thus, it is vital to develop efficient separation technologies for recovery of high-value chemicals from the liquid products of direct biomass liquefaction processes.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Truly. I couldn’t.