By Elaine Rackley
From a field that included 140 science-fair entries, three Dutchtown High School students emerged as winners of the recent Henry County Regional Science and Engineering Fair, held in Locust Grove.
Sierra Harris, Tushar Mittal, and Krupa Merchant won all-expenses-paid trips to Los Angeles, Calif., to submit their winning projects in the International Science & Engineering Fair at the Los Angeles Convention Center, May 8-13, according to Shaheen Begum, Dutchtown's science department chairperson.
"Each year, we as a science department, have to work hard to maintain vigor, and challenge the students to give their best," said Begum. "To see them rewarded for their efforts is the best part. I'm excited to have two students of mine, Sierra and Tushar, competing at the International level with students from 50 different countries, and all of the states of the U.S."
Barbara Heusel, the school's graduation coach and a former science department chairperson, said the students chose their own topics for the competition.
"We oversee the projects," said Heusel. "For the last five years, we have taken at least one project to the international competition."
Dutchtown High had 23 projects competing in the regional fair. Some of them were created by one student, and others were submitted by a team of two students. "We swept up the international placement with three projects," added Heusel.
Begum teaches Honors Biology to freshman students. She described her winning students as "hard working. Sierra [ Harris] is very quiet in class, but at the same time, very inquisitive about biology," said Begum. "She has attended summer programs at Morehouse College in Atlanta, which inspired her to do her project."
Harris, 15, said the purpose of her project is to determine if enzymes can be used to identify ovarian cancer in its early stages. She said her research project was carried out at Morehouse School of Medicine, under the guidance of Dr. Felix Aikhionbare and Mr. Gregory Adams, Jr.
The ninth-grader said she competed on the state level last year as an eighth-grader, with team member, Kereisha Harrel, following the regional science fair. Harris and Harrel placed second in the state science fair.
However, surpassing second place, and having the opportunity to compete in the international fair this year, has proven to her that she can reach her goal of becoming a geneticist, she said.
"I feel really proud of myself for coming this far and making it to the International competition as a ninth-grader," said Harris, who is the daughter of Michael and Angela Harris, of Stockbridge.
"Tushar [Mittal] always tries to give his best in my class, and he made me proud again during the competition," said Begum. Mittal, 14, titled his project, "Electricity from Waste, Is It Possible?" The freshman said he was able to discover how to make electricity from mud-water and fish-tank water, without causing pollution -- and at the same time, the waste was purified into clean drinking water.
"I was blown out of my mind when I found out," he said. "I am really excited about going to California. It's going to be an amazing experience, and I'm going to strive to do the best I can. And my parents were proud, too!" He is the son of Rakesh and Sangeega Mittal, of Stockbridge.
Merchant, 16, a junior, is a "repeat winner," who competed on the international level last year, following the regional science fair competition, where she won with a project titled, "Academic Dishonesty: Factors to a Student's Success."
She said this year's project is a continuation of the earlier one. It is titled, "Academic Dishonesty: Factors to a Student's Success, Year Two."
"I got first-hand knowledge about what the students' opinion were about their education, and also how much they valued academic integrity," said Merchant. "I conducted a research study of 120 juniors and seniors in high school, and 50 high school teachers, in order to discover which consequence is most effective in preventing academic dishonesty in high school."
She said when she went to the International Science & Engineering Fair last year, it was the first time she had been to California.
"California is where I want to go to college, at Stanford University," she said. "I was ecstatic, because when I went the first year, I made a few close friends and they are from all around the world, and we still keep in touch."
Merchant is the daughter of Hemant and Kirtda Merchant, of McDonough.