CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – When Horace Greeley High School senior Jiayi Peng got a phone call last month informing her she would be headed to Washington D.C. in March to compete in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search finals, it was a moment of pure excitement.
Now, with the competition a month away, the nerves are starting to kick in.
“I was stunned and ecstatic when I first got the phone call,” she said. “Now I feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness. I can’t wait to meet a lot of great, smart people and to learn about their interesting projects.”
Peng, who was named a finalist on the merit of her work on a cellular automation model for critical dynamics in neuronal networks, took home a $50,000 college scholarship in December as the No. 2 finisher in a 2012 Siemens competition.
She did her best to describe her project in layman’s terms.
“I basically built a computer model of the neuron network,” she said. “I studied what features in the network help the brain attain a healthy state — which is called the critical state — and help maintain operation at the critical state.”
She suggested such research could lead to significant breakthroughs in several crippling diseases.
“This field of research is significant because it helps us further understand, and hopefully find cures for, devastating neurological disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and Parkinson’s.”
When Peng isn’t finding out ways to cure some of the world’s most puzzling diseases, you’re likely to find her doing volunteer work. She is part of Horace Greeley’s SHARE community service club and co-founded Kits4Kids when she was a sophomore. SHARE sends medical supplies to health centers in developing countries and Kits4Kids looks for ways to raise money for children — mostly girls — in rural China to help them continue their education.
“These kids would have to otherwise drop out of school because of financial difficulties at home,” said Peng. “I was inspired to start the club when I visited rural China during one of my summer vacations.”
Peng, who plans on majoring in mathematics or physics in college while continuing her research, also loves to participate in math competitions such as Moody’s Mega Math Challenge, is an editor for Greeley’s school newspaper Tribune, and is co-president of Greeley’s Science Olympiad team.
She said the combination of people she has met through those activities have gotten her to where is today, and where she is going in March — Washington D.C.
“My favorite thing about Chappaqua is the people here,” she said. “All of my friends, classmates, and teachers have positively influenced me and have helped me grow these past years.”