DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Lily Liu, a second-year student in the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas, has been named a finalist in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search.
Liu, from Plano, was chosen as one of 40 finalists in the U.S. for her research, "Oxidative Cleavage of Methoxyethane by Transition Metal Atoms: A Computational Study on Catalytic Properties of Metals and Performance of DFT Functionals." Liu researched in UNT Regents Professor of Chemistry Angela Wilson's lab.
Liu investigated transition metals that could help catalyze the degradation of lignin. Lignin is the substance that makes plants woody and firm, and is the second most abundant biomass component in the world. When selectively degraded, the material could effectively generate renewable energy and high-value chemical products for commercial use. Liu also evaluated the accuracies of a set of density functionals, which are computational approaches used to model large molecular systems. The results could help experimentalists determine the most suitable transition metal for metal catalyst designs for lignin decomposition, and provide theoreticians additional information for density functional analysis.
"Being a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search is a great honor, and it means so much to have the opportunity to present my work to the public. This is a new experience that I'm excited to learn from," Liu said.
Finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. from March 5-11, where they will display their work to the public, undergo final judging, meet notable scientists and compete for more than $1 million in awards.
"One of the most significant opportunities TAMS students have is to be mentored by UNT professors, who are at the cutting edge of their fields. In this environment, our talented students have flourished as researchers, and have consistently had a strong presence at the Intel Competition. We are very proud of them," said TAMS Dean Glênisson de Oliveira.
Six TAMS students, including Liu, were named Intel semifinalists. TAMS had more semifinalists than any other school in Texas. The semifinalists included:
- Jessica Ouyang from Katy, who also worked with Wilson, conducted computational chemistry research on lanthanide compounds. Lanthanide compounds are an under researched field and the data she developed can be used for future research in fields ranging from electronics to nuclear engines.
- Michael Hashe from Plano, who worked with Professor of Chemistry Teresa Golden, designed a flow cell to deposit corrosion-resistant coatings for use in anaerobic environments. These coatings could protect metal components in bridge supports, docks and other under-water structures.
- Tiffany Jiang from Plano, who also worked with Golden, researched bone powders, via x-ray analysis, to help examine ancient human remains that have been contaminated by heavy metals. Her work can help investigators collect DNA that otherwise would have been uncollectable.
- Sunand Iyer from Plano, whose computational biology research at Stanford University involved creating an algorithm to study gene mutations in cancer pathways. Iyer identified a new gene in a cancer pathway that could be used as a target for new cancer drugs.
- Nivanjan Balachandar from Plano, conducted research at Harvard Medical School and applied statistics to characterize the evolutionary and molecular differences between normal proteins and intrinsically disordered proteins, which behave differently from normal proteins. The work may allow researchers to develop new peptide drugs that treat or slow the progression of diseases including cancer and diabetes.
The Intel Science Talent Search is the nation's most prestigious pre-college science competition. Each year 300 students are named semifinalists, and each semifinalist receives a $1,000 award from the Intel Foundation with an additional $1,000 going to each student's school. Finalists go on to compete for $1.25 million in awards.
TAMS is a two-year residential program at UNT that allows exceptionally talented students to complete their freshman and sophomore years of college while receiving the equivalent of high school diplomas. Students enroll in the academy following their sophomore year of high school, live in a UNT residence hall and attend UNT classes with college students. After two years, they enroll at UNT or another university to finish their bachelor's degrees.