Feature Stories

Minnetonka Research Students Shine at Spring Science Fairs

Every year, driven and intellectually curious middle and high school students compete in the Twin Cities Regional Science Fair (TCRSF), with qualifying students moving onto the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair (MSSEF). Students present their projects to various judges with scientific backgrounds, who then score the student’s work based on project design, methodology, creativity, data collection and much more. This year, students in the Minnetonka Research program competed in both the research paper and project divisions. 

About TCRSF and MSSEF
Due to rising cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, this year's fairs were held in a virtual format. Students were required to record ten minute-long videos describing their projects and post them to YouTube where judges could view them. Students also were able to submit optional project supplements, such as a quad-chart project summary and up to six project images. After a week of judging project materials, on February 27, the annual TCRSF awards ceremony was held virtually, where multiple sponsor awards were given to the best projects. The full awards list for our Minnetonka Research students is included at the end of this article. 

State and International Fair Qualifiers
This year, 34 Minnetonka Research students qualified for state, advancing to the MSSEF. Additionally, five Minnetonka Research students were named state alternatives.Two Minnetonka Research students (Kyla Fung ‘22 and Addie Diaz ‘22 also advanced to the Northern Central Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) with their research papers, and one (Ava Chen ‘22) was named an alternate. MSSEF and JSHS took place in late-March. 

However, the most prestigious award of all continues to be qualifying for the International Science and Engineering Fair, or more commonly known as ISEF. This year, Inba Rajashankar ‘24 was the only Minnetonka Research student to qualify, while Maxwell Maveus ‘22 and Katriana Trinh ‘23 were selected as the third and fourth ISEF alternates at TCRSF. Kyla Fung ‘22, Mahmoud Said ‘22, and Isabelle Stroh ‘23 were selected as ISEF alternates at MSSEF.

“I am super excited, and feel it is such a great opportunity to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair,” said Rajashankar. “I am extremely grateful to be able to share my work with an international audience, and to meet people my age that are interested in science from around the globe.”

Rajashankar was one of the five ISEF finalists selected from the Western Suburbs region at TCRSF. His project, titled, “Medical device recall prediction using MAUDE reports,” aims to identify medical devices that are at risk of defect using a machine learning model. 

“Like any manufactured product, medical devices can be created with inherent flaws that can slip past the existing checks and safety tests before their release to the public,” said Rajashankar.

“My work seeks to single out these devices using natural language processing (techniques that allow a computer to understand written text data) and machine learning (a wide field of data analysis that uses programs to run and fine tune statistical models) as a method of post-market surveillance.”

Rajashankar’s project required extensive background knowledge in coding, much of which he taught himself over the past year in quarantine. 

“Before even deciding on doing a research project, I taught myself how to code in Python and some of the basics of data science,” said Rajashankar. “Over the course of my project, I’ve used many programming libraries including Pandas, Numpy, Seaborn, sklearn, and vigipy to clean and evaluate my data.”

Despite its challenges, Rajashankar says it has been an “extremely rewarding project”. At the State fair, Rajashankar was also awarded 1st place by Beckman Coulter in the High School Engineering project category, and an overall Bronze Grand Award, which is given to the top 30% of projects. Though winning these awards and being selected as an ISEF finalist was a huge honor for him, he believes that the experiences gained through his project thus far is what he is most proud of. 

“Looking back, importing the data, cleaning it of unneeded data, processing it, transforming its format, and finally running and evaluating all the different model configurations has taken a lot of time, effort, and perseverance,” said Rajashankar. “I managed to have an extremely constructive experience through my work with this project, and working with my teachers and mentor has taught me so many things that I would not even have thought of before starting this journey.”

In the Minnetonka Research Program, students are given the support of Research instructors Kim Hoehne, Kevin Burns, and Caitlin McWhirter, as well as lab paraprofessional Cristen VanDriel. Students also reach out and connect with professional mentors, who have specific experience in the individual’s research field. 

“I just want to thank all the people who have worked with and supported me through this research project,” added Rajashankar. “My mentor Yu-Li, Mrs. Hoehne, Mrs. VanDriel, along with my family and friends have all helped me so much through this process, and I wouldn’t have been in this position without them.”

You can see all Minnetonka Research projects in action at the program's annual Symposium on Wednesday, June 1 from 6-8pm. The Symposium is hosted with an open house format and will take place in the Commons at Minnetonka High School.

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