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Doing Science

A blog for students who compete

Zeyu Liu travels to Switzerland and Czech Republic due to Intel ISEF

Doing Science

Zeyu Liu from Calgary, Canada won a trip to tour CERN, a trip to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Prague, a Best of Category Award in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, and the K. Soumyanath Memorial Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2013. Zeyu was also previously a finalist at Intel ISEF in 2011.

What was your experience being an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalist like?
Attending Intel ISEF gave me the opportunity to learn from the most talented high school students in the world and the most prestigious judges I could ever meet. I was truly inspired by both the people and the amazing projects.

To me, Intel ISEF is like a conference with 1,500 of the smartest young minds in the world. Through sharing my research and socializing, my mind was stimulated in ways that were unavailable through other means. I feel the Intel ISEF exhibition hall is a living encyclopedia full of great projects and inventions. To my left was a pulsating jet engine project. Across from me was a robotic glass cleaner. Each project was like a page in the encyclopedia, and I wanted to read all of them! They were truly eye opening and inspiring.

The Intel ISEF judging day was the most precious time for me as the intriguing questions, insightful comments, and constructive feedback were all that I dreamt they would be. At the end of the day, I felt relieved and exhausted but proud to have discussed my project with experts in my field. I gained deeper knowledge about my project and feel so lucky to have had their guidance and mentorship in my life.

My Intel ISEF friends are so talented, driven, and fun. Most importantly, we are all interested in true learning, which brings us together. Many of my teammates have become my lifelong friends. We help each other to excel and achieve higher goals in life. Intel ISEF is only a week, but our friendship will last forever.

Intel ISEF organizers did a fabulous job of providing us with a marvelous environment. I really enjoyed the awards ceremony. The music, the bright lights, the presenter’s beautiful voice, the colorful flags, and the excited finalists make Intel ISEF a competition like no other. It was a blast!

How do you think doing original research and participating in events like Intel ISEF might affect your education and career plans?
First of all, doing research and projects greatly strengthened my interests in engineering. I started doing science fair projects in Grade 8. From making a PLC controlled robot and designing a fuzzy logic controller for traffic lights to building magnetic bearings and a flywheel energy storage system, I developed a true love in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. I realized that for me, learning by doing is most effective. My interest in engineering has increased day by day and transformed from a hobby into a lifetime commitment.

Second, it helped me understand why the humanities are important to engineers. Through doing research, I’ve developed a stronger appreciation for humanities. I’ve learned that many engineering problems are not solved by creating the most advanced products, but by making products that really matter to people. In 2009, I created a PLC controlled robot which could potentially be used in searching for objects in dangerous environments. From that time, I started paying attention to the social value of my projects. While busing to school, I noticed some traffic lights were quite inefficient. If there was a policeman directing the traffic, he would definitely streamline the traffic flow. My traffic lights fuzzy controller was born as a result. In the future, I want to get into a great engineering program with a strong focus on humanities.

Third, participating in the Canada Wide Science Fair and Intel ISEF for the past four years really changed my life. I’m greatly inspired by having shared this experience with the most driven and talented students and the top-notch professors, researchers, and engineers. With so many great role models, I always seek personal and academic improvement, which makes me a better person. I hope my university classmates are like Intel ISEF finalists, loving to create and passionate about learning, and I hope my university professors are like Intel ISEF judges, encouraging and inspiring.

Last, but not least, through participating in events like Intel ISEF I experienced success, failure, hope, and frustration. While success gives me confidence, failure keeps me humble. Failure taught me the importance of perseverance and determination. Looking back, this experience helped me grow academically, socially, emotionally and has better prepared me for the future.
All in all, my experience broadened my horizons and raised my personal standards and expectations. In terms of my future education and career plans, I’m no longer satisfied with just getting into a university. I desire to attend a great university that can challenge and stimulate me intellectually and can fulfill my dreams and satisfy my curiosity. I’m no longer satisfied with a high-paying job after graduation, but want a great career that can realize and reach my full potential and can make contributions to the greater good. I’ve always dreamt of being an inventor, and now I’m sure I’ll be one.

Can you provide a short description of your research project and how you initially became interested in this topic/science in general?
I designed, built, and tested a magnetic-bearing based flywheel energy storage system. It functions like a battery, except it stores kinetic energy.

I incorporated many novel features like hybrid magnetic bearings, a modular frame, and magnetic couplers. The bearings include permanent magnetic bearings which provide most of the power to levitate the flywheel and PID controlled electromagnetic bearings for active stabilization. The modular frame makes maintenance simple and the magnetic couplers enable flexibility for energy input and output. Compared to conventional batteries, my flywheel battery recharges quickly, has no capacity degradation over multiple recharge cycles, and does not use any toxic or harmful materials, making it great for mobile applications like electric cars.

I initially became interested with magnetic levitation when I saw a permanently levitated toy at age eight. I have been fascinated with magnets ever since. I’ve always wanted to make things using magnets. Finally, I created a magnetic bearing in Grade 11. I created it with readily available materials and with the intention of applying it to applications like electric cars, wind turbines, pumps, or compressors. The following year, while researching possible applications, I realized I could use this technology to create an efficient flywheel battery that solves major problems plaguing conventional batteries. After many modifications, I made it work. Just as Albert Einstein once said, “Interest is the best teacher.”

As part of an award you won at the most recent Intel ISEF, you recently had the opportunity to travel to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Can you tell us about that experience?
Participating in EUCYS was an unforgettable experience. It was a small fair with about 85 top-notch projects mainly from Europe. It was great that everyone got to know each other and share each other’s projects. I was really thankful that Intel ISEF provided me with this great opportunity at EUCYS.

The judging process was quite unique. It was spread over three days and the judges could come at any time. The project booths were bigger so judges could sit down and have a long discussion with us. I felt much more relaxed and engaged.

Being the sole Intel ISEF sponsored project created some funny moments. I was from Canada, but I had a USA flag printed on my booth. Almost everyone asked me where I was from. I later put up both Canadian and US flags. My national organizers were extremely nice to me. They treated me like one of their family members.

EUCYS was a very well organized fair. Each participant was assigned a student helper from beginning to end. They were extremely helpful and welcoming, telling me many funny stories and things about their culture. They spent their whole week with us making sure everything went well.
Prague was so beautiful. The whole city was like a museum. EUCYS venues like the Krizik’s Fountain and the Bethlehem Chapel were over 100 years old. The spectacular musical fountain show at the opening ceremony was amazing. We toured the city and walked across the Charles Bridge after the awards ceremony. It was the first time in the week the sun came out. It was such a magnificent sight. I must go back and visit someday!

What are you up to now? Future plans?
I’m taking a year off, volunteering, working part time, studying some open courses, working on projects, and having fun. I hope to get into my dream school and start my university life in Fall 2014.

Other highlights you would like to share?
Another highlight is my trip to CERN last summer. I was so thrilled to go down 100 meters and see the huge particle detectors and helium-cooled electromagnets. It was my first time seeing the Large Hadron Collider in person. For a person who loves magnets, seeing a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets and thousands of magnets of different varieties and sizes was like getting into Disneyland when I was little. It sparked my imagination just to think about making tiny particles collide, like firing two needles 10 kilometres apart and making them meet halfway. I learned a lot about the different components and people involved in building this great engineering marvel. It inspired me to work on cutting edge technology in the future. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity.

Do you have any advice for other young students interested in science?
Participating in science fairs is amazing. It can teach you things you could never learn elsewhere, provide you with a new world to explore, and give you a sense of satisfaction like no other. When I first started, I didn’t know that five years down the road I could learn so much.
My biggest advice for young students is to find as many opportunities as you can and take advantage of them. Whether it’s working on science fair projects, going to science centers, or learning science in the classroom, the more you get exposed to science, the more likely you will find your passion. Participating in science fair is a great way to learn, make like-minded friends, and improve yourself. Although it is extracurricular and non-structured, it may have a much bigger impact on your future. While you may forget the things you learned in the classroom right after your finals, the skills and knowledge you gain from research and doing your projects will last you a lifetime.

Work with your teachers and your parents; they are the best resources for you. I started my journey because of my Grade 8 science teacher. It was she who introduced me to this amazing world of science. My parents also played an important role in my journey. They encouraged me and supported me. They never tried to structure my learning path. I wouldn’t be who I am today if my teacher never mentioned science fair to me and my parents did not allow me to explore freely.

Get a mentor if possible. When you do complicated projects, you need somebody who can guide you. I remember how desperately I needed guidance. Sometimes, it took me weeks and weeks to figure out where the problems were. I’m very thankful that I had my mentor for my later projects.

Another advice is to dream big and challenge yourself. You’ll never achieve big if you don’t dream big. If you are afraid to pursue science because you are afraid of failure, take the challenge. Failure is the mother of success. You won’t learn and grow without failure. When I started working on my magnetic bearings, I was almost certain I wouldn’t succeed. It was extremely complicated and hard to build, not to mention that I knew basically nothing about it. An industry expert kindly suggested for me to try a small portion of my project. Still, I tried my best, failed many times, and finally made it work. Dream big, never give up!

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