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2 Vermont students picked to attend international STEM competition

Two students will be representing Vermont at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Georgia next month.
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 6:22 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Two students will be representing Vermont at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Georgia next month.

Hiba Ali of South Burlington High School and Cecelia Sweeney of St. Johnsbury Academy are seniors making the Green Mountain State proud. They’ll be joining 1,800 other students from around the world.

“I was in middle school and I would see high schoolers qualifying for ISEF. I always thought that I wanted to do that,” Ali said.

Both attended the Vermont STEM Fair in March and their research was good enough to get them a spot in the international competition. “Once I found out about it, I was like, Yeah, it’d be pretty cool If I qualified to go on to that,” Sweeney said.

Ali’s research analyzes myosin, a fibrous protein that transports insulin in the body. “I was hoping that my project could provide some sort of a framework for understanding type two diabetes,” Ali said.

Sweeney’s research looks at the identification of microplastics in soil by using fluorescence. “There is not enough about microplastics in soil, so there aren’t a lot of detection methods for that. And so my research is based on looking at the methods that are used to detect microplastics,” she said.

The two will be taking their research to the competition in Atlanta, where around $4 million in scholarships and awards is up for grabs.

Sarah Gallant, the ISEF coordinator, says the science fairs are great ways to promote STEM ideas and for students to learn from one another. “One of the things that is most exciting about the science fair is that it really does level the playing field. Anyone can come out of anywhere, doesn’t matter what school you came from,” she said

Ali and Sweeney say they’re competing to win but they’re also excited just to be there. “Seeing other people’s projects -- I think that’ll be really good. It’s always cool to see what other people are doing,” Sweeney said.

“Even though I got a little bit of lab time this year and it was mostly virtual, I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined,” Ali said.

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