Cellular Automaton Model
Jiayi Peng, a senior last December at the Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, NY, won a $50,000 second-place Siemens Foundation 2012 prize for her project titled, "A Cellular Automaton Model for Critical Dynamics in Neuronal Networks."
At 17, Jiayi built a cellular automaton model that combined short-term synaptic plasticity with long-term metaplasticity to investigate how these two mechanisms contribute to attaining and maintaining operation at a critical point. Jiayi’s research could help determine how distinct neurological mechanisms can differentiate a healthy brain from one with a devastating neurological disorder such as epilepsy, autism, or Alzheimer's disease.
“I like how interdisciplinary mathematical modeling can be,” she said. “Its basis may be in mathematics and/or physics, yet it can be used to solve real-world problems.”
A pianist, Jiayi won an award in the Golden Key Piano competition. She plans to major in physics or mathematics and aspires to be a researcher or professor in one of these fields.
Her mentor was John M. Beggs, Ph.D, an associate professor of biophysics at Indiana University.
When asked why there seem to be so many high school whiz kids winning prizes for extraordinary research projects, Dr. Beggs replied that he was not so sure that “so many” students were highly talented.
“But one thing that is different today as compared to the past is that high school students have familiarity with computers and they have access to knowledge like current research papers through the internet,” explained Dr. Beggs.
He added that many of the students who win such grand scientific prizes are characterized by an intense drive, high levels of energy, and usually a burning curiosity.
“The most promising students, in my experience, are the ones who chomp things up when they get to an interesting project. It is like a fun feeding frenzy. They are always working, getting new and interesting results and this leads to new questions that they can't wait to get answered,” continued Dr. Beggs. “Instead of a burp at the end, there is this satisfying feeling that something deep has been understood a little better than before.”