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Whiz kids wrap up another STEM summer at USF

Shreya Yemme, from left, Ria Patel and Anjali Borra inspect vials in their microbiology class at the STEM summer program. 
Published Aug. 4, 2016

TAMPA — With the enthusiasm that other kids might show over a new video game, 14-year-old Roshan Warman explains a mathematics phenomenon involving tiny transistors.

"They can block current or they can allow current to pass — the flow of electrons. And so, as these transistors get smaller and smaller,'' he says, "there's expected to be a critical value at which these transistors will no longer function in the classical mechanical way.

"So the quantum effects of these electrons will be observed: mainly, quantum tunneling. It's the effect that, even though the electron can't physically pass through it, it still does.''

Huh?

Well, the faculty member editors of the USF-based International Undergraduate Journal of Mathematical Modeling get it. They were so wowed by Roshan's presentation that they accepted it for publication.

"Do you know how difficult it is to publish a paper in that journal?'' asks University of South Florida mathematics professor Manoug Manougian, who heads USF's summer STEM program — science, technology, engineering and math — for gifted high school students in the Tampa Bay area.

Roshan, a 10th-grader at Academy at the Lakes in Land O'Lakes, is one of 44 students to complete this year's program.

The four weeks of study costs $950; scholarships are available for youngsters who can't afford it. USF has staged the annual program since 1978.

Roshan had just finished a class on robotics. In a nearby building, students work intently at computers as they produce the blueprints for objects they want to create on a three-dimensional printer.

In another room, the printers produce layer upon layer of plastic that takes the shape of the images in the blueprints.

Shreya Yemme, a 10th-grader at Tampa Catholic, twists a newly made model of a human knee to show how strain on the joint tears the ACL ligament, a common sports injury.

Emmanuel Durojaiye, 15, of Land O'Lakes High School, awaits another finger for the artificial hand he created. He picked the project because he liked the sound of it.

"The way they describe it, you have your hand, kind of like an Iron Man hand, and I kind of wanted those.''

Emmanuel had considered becoming an engineer, but he really loved the microbiology course taught by professor Lindsey Shaw, whose students studied microbes that have not been identified by scientists.

"So I'm also looking at that as well.''

Future engineers, microbiologists and mathematicians, these kids can match the know-how of their counterparts anywhere in the world, Manougian declares.

Manougian, who joined the USF faculty in 1968, started the summer STEM program in 1971 with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

He was concerned over statistics that showed American students were ranked behind 27 other countries in science, technology and mathematics.

Over the four weeks, the students are exposed to all the courses offered, which may change from year to year. Students are encouraged to push themselves beyond their perceived abilities.

At times, they succeed spectacularly. For Roshan, it runs in the family. His older brother, Raj Warman, another math whiz and USF STEM veteran, is starting his freshman year at Duke University. The school gave him a full scholarship plus money for his own research project.

Something like that makes Manougian's day.

"It makes one feel good, especially in my profession, where teaching is central to all that I do.''

Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com.

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