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Doing Science

A blog for students who compete

Maya Patel's Flammability Index Helped Her Reach the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS Finals

Doing Science

Maya Patel from The Woodlands, Texas won a 2nd place award in Mathematics at the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS. Below she describes her experience during the Broadcom MASTERS finals in Washington, DC last fall and at the Iron Man 3 event held this spring. Broadcom MASTERS, a program of Society for Science & the Public, is the national science, technology, engineering, and math competition for U.S. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

What was your experience being a Broadcom MASTERS finalist like?
Being a part of the Broadcom MASTERS was a once in a lifetime experience. The whole environment was extremely fun and exciting, but also very intellectual at the same time, and the people were AWESOME! We were a large group of geeks who got each other. I was able to be myself and make extremely scientific comments and they would understand me! I loved every second of hanging out with the 29 other finalists. Also, the STEM challenges they gave us throughout the week were incredibly interesting and engaging. I wish I could learn science like that in the classroom every day. By the end of the week, I had formed lifelong friends that I am still in touch with today! Some of my favorite activities were the team building, programming on the Raspberry Pi, the Maryland Science Center, and the bonding time with other finalists.

Can you provide a short description of the research you presented?
My project was “Gauging Inferno Sprawl.” Coming from Texas, where fires threaten our state in the drier months and millions of acres are destroyed on a yearly basis, I decided to create a way to predict the spread of a wildfire using Geographical Information Systems (GIS). I had to create an algorithm that used factors affecting flammability, which turned out a flammability index for each cell on the map. These numbers were then manipulated with focal statistics and Boolean logic to model the spread of a wildfire. After much work, my model had an 80% accuracy rate. This model could potentially aid firefighters in evacuation planning and also help them determine how to fight fires more efficiently, saving lives and reducing the amount of land and homes destroyed.

How did you initially become interested in science and this topic specifically?
Science has always sparked an interest in me. I would read books about science and do little experiments at home. Also every science teacher I have ever had has helped me get to this stage in some way, whether they presented a cool experiment to me or helped me go to science fair. This particular topic started when I was at summer camp. There was a wildfire very close to the camp and we could see and smell the smoke. The firefighters had told everyone to always have a bag packed in case we had to evacuate. I thought- what if we could predict where a wildfire was going to spread? That would solve many problems. So, I researched the idea and came to the conclusion that GIS could help me do this. 

Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
When trying to come up with a science fair topic, pick something you personally are very interested in and something that affects your life. Yes, curing cancer may be the big thing out there, but you should pick something you really like to do. You are after all the one spending hours upon hours completing the project, so do something that won’t be torture. Also for students applying for Broadcom MASTERS, yes, it can be a tedious process, but it is well worth it in the end. Take the time to really not just tell the technical and scientific aspects of your project, but also the journey you went on. A large part of science fair isn’t the actual science, but what you learned from the whole journey of meeting new people and presenting your project. 

This spring, you had the opportunity to attend Marvel’s Iron Man 3 Inventor and Innovator Fair. Can you tell us about that event?
The Iron Man 3: Inventor and Innovator Fair was lots and lots of fun too. I had the opportunity to reunite with three other Broadcom MASTERS finalists. We took a tour of Broadcom Corporation and the Discovery Science Center, which are both very cool places. We also got a special tour of Disney Imagineering, a once in a lifetime opportunity! The other 11 finalists were so cool and intelligent too. The atmosphere was very similar to the one at Broadcom MASTERS. I really enjoyed spending a week with these very intelligent people. At the conclusion of the week was the awards ceremony and at the very end Robert Downey, Jr. came and surprised us and said he was humbled by our work! That was very, very cool, and I speak for the girls there when I say that we all died a little inside when he was announced. I could not believe it! Meeting him was the perfect end to a very exciting week.

What are your future plans related to STEM?
I plan to have a STEM career in the future. I am not completely sure what exactly I want to do. I am strongly considering something in the genetics field and a medical degree may be in my future. I am continuing to do science fairs, but I am starting some new research this year mixing nanotechnology and many aspects of biology.

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