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BALTIMORE, FEBRUARY 3, 2014—One researcher wants to see if ammonium borane might be a safer storage medium to power a hydrogen car. Another wants to find new ways to attach biological molecules, such as those in pharmaceuticals, to carbon nanotubes.

It might be all in a day’s work at a university or research institute, but here the researchers are seven young women and five young men between 13 and 16 years old.   

Ten students from the United States and two from South Korea have been named recipients of the inaugural CTY Cogito Research Awards for aspiring middle school and high school researchers, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY)  announced.  

Ten grants of $599 each were awarded to individual students or student partners who submitted outstanding proposals for research in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields. 

A judging panel composed of faculty from CTY selected the proposals from over 160 student applications based on overall quality and promise to achieve compelling research results.

Student researchers will use the funds to purchase equipment, rent lab space, or pay for other project-related needs. The award winners will work with supervising mentors as they see their projects through to the finish line and write final reports on results. Awardees will also blog about their progress on, CTY’s website and online community for math- and science-minded middle school and high school students.

“Our Center created the CTY Cogito Research Award to support motivated and prepared students to complete promising research in the STEM disciplines,” says Elaine Tuttle Hansen, executive director of the Center for Talented Youth. “We congratulate the award winners for submitting proposals that demonstrated careful, high-level thinking, along with a curiosity about the world that will serve them well throughout their lives.”

The CTY Cogito Research Awards is one part of’s mission to foster the development of the world’s most promising young scientists and create a community that includes peers as well as working scientists and mathematicians. Cogito features math, science, engineering, and technology news and updates for everyone, and forums and other information open to members after registration.

Membership to is open to all students ages 13 to 18 affiliated with CTY, and to other students in that age range by nomination from teachers and other educational organizations.

The 2014 CTY Cogito Research Awards winners:

1. “An Inexpensive Perkins-Style Braille Computer Keyboard.” Proposal submitted by Daniel Assumpcao, 16, of Woodinville, Wash., who attends 11th grade at Eastside Catholic School. “It is very challenging for people with visual impairments to interact with their computer through a traditional keyboard, and current Perkins-Braille keyboards are too expensive,” Daniel says. He is working on designs for both desktop and handheld models and eventually he would like to add Bluetooth functionality so that people can use them with tablets and smartphones.

2. “Novel Mechanism for Attachment of Peptides to Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes.” Proposal submitted by Audrey Cheng, 15, of Palo Alto, Calif., who attends 10th grade at Henry M. Gunn High School. Inspired by a CTY chemistry course she took three years ago, Audrey plans to find a new mechanism by which to attach biological molecules, such as those in pharmaceuticals, to carbon nanotubes—literally one-atom-thick sheets of carbon rolled into tiny pipes that have myriad applications. These nanotubes could then be used to transport drugs to specific parts of the body. Ultimately, she would like to see her work used in an HPV vaccine.

3.  “Solar Energy: The Future of Planet Earth.” Proposal co-submitted by Sam Lee, 13, of Chula Vista, Calif., and Daniel Kim, 14, of Chula Vista, who attend 8th grade at Eastlake Middle School. Solar panels must be installed in the most energy-efficient way possible in order to offset their high cost. Sam and Daniel plan to determine what direction or angle of a solar panel enables it to collect the most solar energy by setting up a series of panels in various positions and measuring their stored voltages over time. Sam and Daniel decided to apply for the CTY Cogito Research Award during a study group session.

4. “Ammonia Borane in a Model Hydrogen Car.” Proposal submitted by Lena Foellmer, 16, of Santa Monica, Calif., who attends 11th grade at Brentwood School. Hydrogen fuel cells are a promising source of clean energy, but hydrogen gas—potentially generated for these cells via water electrolysis—is difficult to store safely and inexpensively in tanks in high quantities. Lena wants to build on existing research and investigate powering a mini-hydrogen car by using ammonia borane, which can be stored as a safe solid and which will release hydrogen at a controlled rate via a chemical reactor. She expects that the compound would store hundreds of times more energy than is possible by simply compressing hydrogen gas.

5.  “What Can Bacteria Do On Our Bridges and Ships? A Corrosion Investigation.” Proposal submitted by Sarah Shen, 14, of Ames, Iowa, who attends the 8th grade at Ames Middle School. Sarah wants to follow up a study released three years ago showing the Titanic was decomposing at an accelerated rate due to bacteria eating the metal. Her study will investigate which metals are most vulnerable to the bacteria and how quickly they deteriorate. She hopes her work can improve the safety of the world’s bridges, pipes, and other metal structures.

6.  “The Effect of Proximity to the Nation’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plant on Macroinvertebrate Populations in Coastal Plain Creeks.” Proposal submitted by Andrew Laberee, 14, of Medford, N.J., who is homeschooled. Andrew lives 50 miles from the Oyster Creek Nuclear power plant. Andrew’s plan, pending a water quality safety assessment, is to research how proximity to the power plant might be polluting the area’s waters by collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates (e.g., mayfly nymphs, aquatic beetles, crabs), large quantities of which indicate healthy water, from nearby Oyster Creek and comparing these population levels with that of three more distant creeks in the region. He also plans to do a chemical assessment. Andrew also volunteers at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

7.  “The Effect of ApoE and Tau on Aβ Aggregation.” Proposal submitted by Brent Han, 15, of Palo Alto, Calif., who attends 9th grade at Henry M. Gunn High School. Brent plans to study why the amyloid-beta (Aβ) peptide builds up in the brain and causes Alzheimer’s in some people but not in others. Specifically, he plans to research how certain forms of the tau and ApoE proteins cause the Aβ peptide to aggregate. Brent hopes his research could contribute to a better understanding of the disease that affects a family member.

8.  “A Study of Household Objects to Create an Expressive Musical Instrument (EMI) Capable of Producing a Full Dynamic Range with the Resonance and Timbre of a Concert Hall Instrument.” Proposal submitted by Jillian Khoo, 15, of McLean, Va., who attends 9th grade at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Jillian’s project combines her interests in science and fine arts as she investigates the physics and engineering behind stringed instruments with a goal to build a novel stringed instrument made of everyday household materials.

9.  “A Novel Microcontroller-Based Pulmonary Function Analyzer for Early Detection of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) as an Innovative Global Health Solution.” Proposal submitted by Maya Varma, 15, of Cupertino, Calif., who attends the 10th grade at Presentation High School. Spirometers, devices that diagnose respiratory illnesses such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma, are too expensive to be used widely in developing countries. Maya plans to engineer an inexpensive, portable spirometer that people can also use in their homes to monitor their conditions without assistance from a health care professional.

10. “CO2 Reduction to Oxalic Acid via a Bio-catalytic Method.” Proposal co-submitted by So Young Lee, 16, and Sodam Yi, 16, both first-year students at Seoul Science High School in Seoul, South Korea. So Young and Sodam have an idea for a green chemistry project: They plan to use suljigemi, a byproduct created during the making of traditional Korean rice-wine, as a catalyst to convert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, into oxalic acid, a substance with many industrial uses. Chemical catalysts are typically used for this reaction; So Young and Sodam’s method would provide an environmentally safe alternative. Sodam and So Young are best friends who also compete in the Korean chemistry, math, and biology Olympiads.

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About The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY)

A global leader in gifted education since 1979, CTY is focused on identifying academic talent in exceptional K-12 students and supporting their growth with summer and online courses, family programs, services, and resources specifically designed to meet their needs.  Education Week called CTY “one of a set of remarkable nonpublic institutions dedicated to the discovery and nurture of the most talented young people for the highest levels of accomplishment.”