Student Gains Coveted Future Scientist Award

Press Release – Auckland Diocesan School For Girls

A high achieving 17-year-old student from Auckland’s Diocesan School for Girls has won the 2011 Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Award for her outstanding research into a possible link between the early onset of short sightedness and mental concentration.
Eye Research Wins Diocesan School Student Coveted Future Scientist Award

A high achieving 17-year-old student from Auckland’s Diocesan School for Girls has won the 2011 Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Award for her outstanding research into a possible link between the early onset of short sightedness and mental concentration.

Year 13 student Nina Huang, from Epsom, will receive a $50,000 scholarship to help with her tertiary studies after winning the coveted national science prize for secondary school students which was presented by Prime Minister John Key to her in Auckland today.

Last week Nina was named the Genesis Energy Realise the Dream Supreme Award winner which earned her a $7000 cash scholarship and an all expenses paid trip to Slovakia in 2012 to attend the European Union Young Scientist Competition.

The Royal Society runs the Genesis Energy Realise the Dream awards to acknowledge the finest examples of science research or technological development undertaken by New Zealand secondary school students.

Nina’s “Eye Think” project was the basis of a 4000-word extended essay she had to write for the two-year International Baccalaureate Diploma she has completed at Diocesan this year.

Her research compared how the pupil sizes of 46 Year 7 students changed when they performed cognitive tasks, such as solving maths equations, with when they performed non-cognitive ones, such as reading a simple sentence.

Nina photographed the students’ pupils while they performed the tasks then measured them to investigate a possible link between optical power required to focus on a task and short sightedness.

Nina says although her results were too scattered to be conclusive, they helped her to determine how she could refine future experiments, which could include using MRI scans to monitor brain activity and filming pupil reactions to measure them more accurately.

“If we can isolate external reasons, such as prolonged periods of concentration, for the onset of short sightedness in young people, it may help researchers identify other causes such as genetics, environmental conditions and signalling pathways to the brain then treat the condition.”

Nina says she has always been fascinated with how the human body works and now loves everything to do with science.

“Having excellent science teachers at Diocesan who have made problems easy to understand, are hands on, inclusive and who build on our learning has also really helped me.”

A presentation at school assembly last year on cataract research by Diocesan Old Girl and scientist Dr Julie Lim from Auckland University’s Department of Optometry and Vision Science inspired Nina to do her IB research in an area involving vision. Her research was supervised by Professor John Phillips of the department.

Diocesan’s Head of Science Sarah Boasman encouraged her to enter her research project into the NIWA Auckland Regional Science Fair in September where she placed second and was nominated for the Realise the Dream Awards.

Diocesan Principal Ms Heather McRae said Nina’s commitment to excellence, combined with a desire to learn more about whatever subject she was studying, meant she achieved highly.

“Nina models the high expectations we set for all our students at Diocesan and she has benefited from working among like-minded girls.”

Nina said she had no idea her research would take her so far.

“I was so bowled over when I found out about the awards that I couldn’t speak.”

Nina, who speaks Mandarin, is learning Japanese, is one level short of becoming a Taekwondo black belt and has played the piano since she was four, says her proud parents have always supported her but have never pressured her to pursue a certain career path.

“They have always just told me to do what I want and to enjoy it.”

Nina plans to study Biomedical Science at Auckland University next year and wants to specialise in genetics and molecular biology.

“I think it would be more fun to be a research scientist than a doctor. I’m also interested in stem cell research. It has the ability to turn to the medical world around because of its ability to replace anything in the human body.”

Ends

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
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