Science students succeed at state competitions

Jiwoo Hwang, staff writer

Senior Elizabeth Welch-Jani and junior Izzy Huang both achieved significant scientific accomplishments this year, according to Jeff Rylander, instructional supervisor of the Science Department. Welch-Jani earned the highest award possible at the Illinois Junior Academy of Science (IJAS) and the State Competition at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, while Huang placed second in the state chemistry test sponsored by the American Chemical Society, winning a prize of $3,000.

Last year, Welch-Jani researched the gravitational wave signal of binary white dwarf stars in the Milky Way galaxy with Shane Larson, the research associate professor at Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERRA). Welch-Jani explained that she predicted whether or not dark matter in the Milky Way galaxy was made up of white dwarf stars. After researching, she created a simulation that predicted the results of a gravitational wave detector (LISA) that will be sent up in space around 2034. Welch-Jani said her favorite part of the whole experience was problem-solving and writing code.

“[I enjoy] figuring out how to do new things and just sticking with it even though it’s sometimes frustrating, but [overall], it’s very fun,’’ Welch-Jani said.

Welch-Jani said she met with Larsen almost daily over the summer at Northwestern University. Other than Larsen, her mentor at South was Rylander, who she worked with in the Science Independent Research Study (SIRS) program. Welch-Jani also had to present her work at competitions, which she said helped her grow as a presenter and teacher of astrophysics.

“This experience has definitely solidified my idea of what I want to do in the future,” Welch-Jani said. “I love astrophysics. I love doing research and sharing my findings.”

Similar to Welch-Jani, Huang spent months preparing for the state chemistry test, according to Rylander. He studied with Science Teacher Brandon Tucker, science tutors from the TLC, and also prepped on his own every day. Unlike most of the other participants at the state chemistry exam, Huang moved to America from Taiwan just a year ago, Rylander said. He took many science classes last year to improve his English.

“It’s a double amazing thing for a student to have recently come to the U.S. not [speaking] a ton of English to do this,” Rylander said.

Rylander was proud of both of the students’ achievements and both have inspired other students at South.

“Here are two students that exemplify a ton of persistence and hard work, and they have achieved great things,” Rylander said.