Deering High School Senior Is Top Winner at Maine State Science Fair

Linh Nguyen

Linh Nguyen, a senior at Deering High School, is the First Place Grand Award winner in the 2021 Maine State Science Fair. Nguyen came out on top among the nearly 160 students competing for prestigious state titles and more than $1 million in scholarships and awards. She won for her research on how carbon nanotubes could be used as an inexpensive remover of arsenic in drinking water systems.

In other news, Nguyen also was named on April 8 as a Cooke College Scholar, one of just 61 students nationwide to receive that prestigious honor – and the only one from Maine. The Cooke College Scholars receive up to $40,000 annually for up to four years to attend the college or university of their choice, in addition to comprehensive advising and other program support.

Celebrating its 75th year, the Maine State Science Fair (MSSF) is organized by The Jackson Laboratory and Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA). This year’s event took place virtually on April 3, and 157 students representing 23 Maine schools tuned in to present virtual research or engineering projects to a panel of judges and attend events.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, was the keynote speaker. Dr. Shah encouraged the students to communicate their science clearly to non-scientific audiences. “Just as important as learning the tools of science are learning the tools of science communication,” Shah said. “The principle that I always keep in my mind [when answering a scientific question] is you shouldn’t tell them how to build a clock, you should tell them what time it is, because that’s what they are really interested in.”

Nguyen’s research project has a very practical application. She won for her work titled “Applications of Carbon Nanotube Based Sorbents for Removal of Arsenic from Polluted Water.” She studied how carbon nanotubes could be used as an inexpensive remover of arsenic in drinking water systems, including private wells where arsenic contamination is prevalent. A nanotube is a microscopic tube whose diameter is measured in nanometers.

Nguyen was one of three Grand Award winners – students whose MSSF projects were judged to be at the top overall.

The Second Place Grand Award winner was Vetri Vel, a Bangor High School senior, who won for improving his fall-detection software that uses a thermal-imaging detector of his own creation. His system could help elderly people living alone detect falls and send a call for help. Mateus Nascimento, a junior at Brunswick High School, won the Third Place Grand Award for his project titled: “Animals Talk: Understanding Silk Moth Communication through Detection of Pheromones with an Electronic Nose.”

The three MSSF Grand Award winners are invited to form the Maine delegation to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. This is a significant honor and speaks to the quality and significance of the student’s research or engineering project. This year, the Regeneron ISEF is virtual and will be held in May. Regeneron ISEF is a competition with significant financial and scholarship awards.

In addition to winning the MSSF First Place Grand Award, Nguyen placed first in the Environmental Engineering category award. Nguyen also was the recipient of the first Cary James Water Ride Scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship that she can apply to the college of her choice.

Also, Nguyen was notified April 8 by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that she is one of their  2021 Cooke College Scholars. This year’s 61 recipients were chosen from a pool of more than 5,800 applicants nationwide. The Cooke College Scholarship Program seeks to close the gaps in higher education access for driven students with financial need. Along with financial support, Cooke College Scholars will receive ongoing educational advising and opportunities for internships, study abroad, and access to graduate school funding.

“Linh is the kind of student who inspires everyone around her. She is driven by her curiosity and she is not afraid of putting in the hard work needed to accomplish any task,” said Deering science teacher Cyle Davenport. “As someone fortunate enough to have her in two of my classes, I can say that her success at the MSSF is completely deserved. Linh does not give up. All of her teachers are overwhelmed with pride for this young woman; and we are all eager to see what she does next.”

Deering school counselor Libby Heselton said, “Linh is highly conscientious and determined, with an outstanding work ethic. She seeks to understand concepts rather than just complete assignments, and adds to her classmates’ learning with probing questions that tie back to ‘why this matters.’ She is all about collaborative problem solving. Linh’s character outshines even her academics.  Accordingly, she has the very difficult decision of choosing among Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.”

“The Portland Public Schools is extremely proud of this talented, hardworking student,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “One of the primary goals of our Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan, is to empower and prepare our students for 21st century careers, and STEM learning is key to achieving that goal. Linh’s work stands out. Her STEM knowledge is impressive and she used it to solve an important problem. She is an all-around student  leader and excels in everything she does. The credit goes to her and also to her teachers and others who have supported her along the way. We look forward to seeing all the ways in which Linh will continue to achieve in the future.”

Learn more about other Maine State  Science Fair awards and scholarship winners.

“This year’s Maine State Science Fair was an inspiring showcase of the STEM talent being fostered in Maine high schools,” said Michael McKernan, Program Director for STEM and Undergraduate Education at The Jackson Laboratory and a co-director of the Science Fair. “Students presented projects that were both highly creative and also relevant to pervasive issues in Maine.”

“It has been awe-inspiring to see the achievements of Maine’s students as the Science Fair has grown to involve more schools and educators from across the state,” said Dr. Ruth Kermish-Allen, executive director of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA). “Our young people are creating outstanding scientific research that truly can make a difference in the world, and we are able to recognize those efforts through increased scholarships to diverse higher education options available to MSSF students. The creativity and innovation we see in these complex scientific studies highlights the amazing talents of Maine’s next generation of leaders.”

Information for this article was provided by Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.