DENTON (UNT), Texas — Prateek Kalakuntla of Plano, a student at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas, received the fourth-place award of $30,000 at the 2016 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. He is the son of Madhu and Vijitha Kalakuntla of Plano.
The Siemens Competition is one of the nation’s premier research competitions for high school-aged students, promoting excellence in math, science and technology by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects. Six students named as national individual finalists and six research teams compete every December in Washington, D.C., and present their research before a panel of judges.
The students were first named regional finalists in October, and presented their research before different panels of judges at one of the competition’s six regional competitions in November. As a regional finalist, Kalakuntla received a $1,000 scholarship, and another $3,000 for being a regional winner.
For his research project, Kalakuntla developed a low-cost method of detecting lead, mercury and other toxins in water and soil. He synthesized a substance that usually has a green emission but has a reduced emission in the presence of heavy metals, particularly mercury.
Kalakuntla created his sensor in the laboratory of Mohammad Omary, University Distinguished Research Professor in UNT’s Department of Chemistry, where he has been working since shortly after entering TAMS in August 2015.
The Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, or TAMS, is the nation’s first early college entrance residential program for gifted high school students. Students enter TAMS when they would be starting their junior year of high school, live on the UNT campus and take UNT classes for college credit. Mentored by UNT faculty, TAMS students work in research labs to tackle complex, real-world problems.
In this year’s Siemens competition, 15 other TAMS students were recognized as semifinalists, with TAMS leading other Texas schools in the number of semifinalists and having the third largest number of semifinalists in the nation. Since 2001, TAMS has had more than 140 students named semifinalists and regional finalists. Six of those students, including Kalakuntla, went to the national competition.