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Doing Science

A blog for students who compete

Meghan Shea Shares Experiences Made Possible by Participating in Intel STS 2013

Doing Science

Meghan Shea at the medaling ceremony during Intel STS 2013

Meghan Shea, a 2013 Intel Science Talent Search finalist and a 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalist, talks about her experiences competing and the impact science competitions have had on her life.

What was your experience being an Intel Science Talent Search finalist like?
My experience as an Intel STS finalist was one of the greatest weeks of my high school career. As the daughter of a journalist and a software engineer, who attended a high school without a formal research program, I rarely had opportunities to not only share my own research but also learn about what similar students around the country were working on. At Intel STS, I got to spend a week learning from and with 39 of the most passionate, dedicated, and brilliant student researchers. Plus, I had the opportunity to share my own work with everyone from local elementary school students to experts in my discipline; the enthusiasm and energy in the room during the Public Exhibition of Projects reinforced my love of research and my desire to pursue a career in science.
 
Can you provide a short description of your research project and how you initially became interested in this topic/science in general?
I worked on a new type of water filter created entirely from household items, allowing the filter to be made in areas without access to more sophisticated resources. The filter utilizes a specific seed from the Moringa oleifera tree that naturally coagulates particles in water, making them easier to filter with more conventional materials, like fabric.

My interest in this topic really dates back to my childhood days of exploring tide pools and snorkeling on family vacations. When I was about six, I began telling everyone who would listen that I wanted to become a marine biologist, specializing in seahorses (even though I could barely spell my future job title). My love of the ocean, water, and related topics has only increased since then. In middle school, I wanted to find an independent research project relating to the ocean that I could conceivably work on in my own makeshift basement laboratory. What started as crude testing of different materials used to absorb oil slowly evolved into a more involved study of bioremediation of oil once I reached high school. After four years of bioremediation research, I shifted to water purification, hoping that my new work might have more positive applications for human health and wellbeing.

How did doing original research and participating in events like the Intel STS affect your future plans for education, career, etc?
While I have always been interested in a science career, doing original research in middle and high school only reinforced my love of discovery and innovation. Sara Volz (Intel STS 2013 top winner) likes to say that science is a verb, not a noun; that perspective really resonates with me. My educational career allowed me to develop a love of science as a noun—as facts and numbers and systems that I learned in my classes. However, true science is the research that informs the textbooks I so eagerly devoured. Through my own experiments, I realized that I love science as a verb as well, which has directed my undergraduate education and career aspirations. Events like Intel STS have opened so many doors for me by providing confidence, inspiration, and connections. 

What are you up to now?
Right now, I am finishing up my fall quarter at Stanford with a prospective major in environmental engineering.
 
You recently received the 2013 Next Generation Award from Popular Mechanics. Can you tell us about that?
Each year, Popular Mechanics selects transformative innovators and products for the Breakthrough Awards. While these awards typically go to people and products that are already impacting society, they reserve one Next Generation award for a younger recipient with an idea that shows potential. Being selected as the Next Generation recipient this year was an incredible honor, and one that was only possible due to the exposure I received from Intel STS. I had the opportunity to travel to NYC and present my filter alongside the other award winners, including XPrize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis. Seeing the achievements of the other innovators inspired me to continue researching in hopes that someday my work might be as revolutionary as the products surrounding me at the ceremony.
 
Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
I believe that there is a certain brilliance in the way kids approach scientific problems, so I encourage any younger students interested in science to try research. All too often, I talk to peers about starting their own science projects and they tell me that they lack the resources or the knowledge to do their own work.  None of that is true! In my opinion, all you need is an idea and an imagination to start working toward solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. My best advice to budding scientists is to not let anything get in the way of pursuing your interests!

To finalists of the Intel STS 2014: you already know the power of research, so keep innovating and discovering. Embrace every second of your week in Washington, DC and enjoy some stellar conversations with your fellow finalists and the public. And most importantly, keep changing the world!
 
Other interesting highlights you would like to share?
This summer, I had the chance to travel to Kenya as a Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change winner, another opportunity that would not have been possible without SSP’s support during the public voting phase. The chance to visit communities that could potentially use the filter I designed as well as the opportunity to talk to people in Kenya about how Moringa oleifera is currently used was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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