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Greeley Senior's Research Wins Regional Science Prize

Jiayi Peng, a senior at Horace Greeley High School, is one of six national finalists competing for a $100,000 scholarship.
Jiayi Peng, a senior at Horace Greeley High School, is one of six national finalists competing for a $100,000 scholarship. Photo Credit: Contributed

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – Days after taking home the top honors at a regional science, math and technology competition, Horace Greeley High School senior Jiayi Peng still has not been able to process her win.

“I was completely stunned and I kind of wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I was a little speechless at first. It was a lot to take in.”

Peng competed over the weekend against four other regional high school students at Carnegie Mellon University to win a $3,000 scholarship from Siemens. Peng is one of six high school students who will now advance to the national competition and compete for a $100,000 scholarship.

The winning research for the Greeley senior involves the use of a computer model to examine how varied neurological mechanisms can differentiate a healthy brain from one with a devastating neurological disorder,  such as epilepsy, autism or Alzheimer's disease. Peng estimates she has spent more than 1,200 hours researching for her project, titled "A Cellular Automaton Model for Critical Dynamics in Neuronal Networks."

"Jiayi's model utilizes a remarkably simple feedback mechanism that allows it to reach and maintain a critical state," said competition judge Dr. Markus Deserno, associate professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon University. "Jiayi's contribution also sheds new light onto these neurological conditions.  Someday, her work might help us find a treatment for these ailments."

Peng does not know where she will be next fall, but said she wants to continue her studies in math or physics in hopes of becoming a researcher or professor.

A total of 2,255 teens nationwide entered the competition and panels of professional scientists have trimmed the finalists down to just six individuals and six teams. Peng will compete in the individual competition for the $100,000 top prize. The remaining finalists receive scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

Peng will present her research at the finals between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4 at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

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