WiSTEM hosts 11th annual Research Symposium


Kavya Ramakrishnan

Anuva Mittal (11) demos an experiment at the 10th Symposium. This year, WiSTEM will introduce new interactive workshops.

by Prameela Kottapalli, Reporter

The 11th annual Harker research symposium will take place on Saturday, April 9 from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, and will feature science-based student research presentations, formal upper school student talks, keynote speeches, and corporate exhibitions.

In addition to the usual program, the coordinators of the program – biology teacher Anita Chetty and officers of the Women in Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering (WiSTEM) club – will host four science-based research workshops on April 9, two of which are open to high school students.  

The workshops are aligned with the theme of this year’s symposium, which is data science, predictive analytics and machine learning.

In the morning, an Introduction to Bioinformatics workshop will take place in which students will analyze biological data, perform genomics searches, examine the human genome and experiment with protein-folding computation. The workshop, run by biomolecular engineer Dr. Marcos Woehrmann, is an hour and a half long and is recommended to students with minimal understanding in biology.

Anita Chetty explained the importance of this course on Bioinformatics.

“If you’re taking a look at predictive analytics, I think it’s really important for us to understand that we can take large volumes of data that are associated with the human genome and be able to use that information in order to be able to predict human health,” she said.

The afternoon workshop is a Make-and-Take Workshop that involves students constructing and customizing their own fully-operating, homemade speaker which they can keep afterwards. This class, led by physics teacher Scott Pflaumer along with upper school physics students, is available to any student interested in the activity, including middle schoolers.

“Learning about it in a textbook is one thing, but actually building your own speaker and seeing how the parts work together is another,” Pflaumer said. “To many people, the speaker is just a black box that produces sound but they have no idea how it works, so hopefully students who come to this workshop will experience building their own speaker and will see how the parts work and how the sciences apply.”

The two-hour machine-learning and predictive analytics workshop is the most technical class  offered at the symposium and is instructed by the chief technology officer of LodgIQ, Somnath Banerjee. It is organized for students who have a background in computer programming and wish to develop a deeper proficiency in data science, technology stack, algorithms and data mining and modeling. The workshop is grounded on a set of open source technologies such as Python, I Python, numpy, scikit-learn and Spark.

“The machine learning workshop is going to educate students about the next age of where computer science is going to take us in terms of our own lives,” Chetty said. “It’s going to be a very hands-on opportunity.”

A morning workshop is accessible to the youngest students of the Harker community. It incorporates building a lego robot and entering the final product in a balloon race.

In previous years, those attending symposium could not fully involve themselves in the technical experience due to a lack of interactive elements in the program. Anika Mohindra (12), president of WiSTEM and one of the chief organizers of the symposium, explained how this year’s workshops will add a hands-on approach to the event.

“The workshops are going to add another level to interactivity for the people who attend,” she said. “Students will actually be working hands-on. Otherwise, there are a lot of poster presenters and talks that are speaking to you but not allowing you to immerse yourself in doing some of the work yourself, so this gives you the opportunity to do that.”

This new development is an addition to the symposium program, which already includes keynote addresses, corporate displays and student presentations.

The symposium was coordinated by science teacher Anita Chetty along with members of the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Club (WiSTEM).

Google, NVIDIA, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Evenium, LodgIQ, PerkinElmer, Prysm and Agilone will promote their companies at the symposium.

Students from eighth grade through high school are allowed to deliver formal talks and poster sessions at the event at certain time intervals between 8 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.