New IACS Challenge Celebrates Women and Girls in Science

Promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) among girls from a young age through targeted educational initiatives is crucial to fostering and encouraging their interest and pursuit of STEM study and careers.

As part of an initiative to celebrate the incredible scientific and engineering achievements of women, the Institute for Advanced Computational Science (IACS) at Stony Brook University introduced the IACS Challenge in honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11.

More than 190 students submitted one-minute videos highlighting a woman scientist from a selection of nine famous women scientists supplied by IACS, and presented their own experiment and findings, showcasing the work of the scientist using computers or household materials.

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From the applicants, who represented more than 70 schools throughout New York State, 13 teams were selected as finalists to compete in the final of the IACS Challenge on February 7 in the Laufer Auditorium. As part of the challenge, teams presented a three-minute overview of the selected scientist and the reasons behind the choice, following a screening of the original submission video.

Mónica Bugallo, vice provost for Faculty Affairs and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Marivi Fernández-Serra, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science, coordinated and hosted the event.

IACS Director Robert Harrison welcomed the group. “There is a massive pool of talented female scientists at Stony Brook changing the world around us and sharing their passion for science with the communities around them.”

In addition to Bugallo, Fernández-Serra and Harrison, the panel of judges included Heather Lynch, IACS Endowed Chair in Ecology and Evolution; Margaret Schedel, associate professor in the Department of Music; and Alec Wills, graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Iacs challenge 2

Finalists ranging from 2nd grade through 12th grade were cheered on by family members and teachers. Nannette O’Grady, a teacher in the Half Hollow Hills School District, came to support her students who were finalists.

“I introduced the competition in my science research course and they ran with it,” said O’Grady. “Most did not know who these scientists were, and they enjoyed having a choice of which scientist to study. The most difficult part for them was keeping the video to only 60 seconds since they had so much to say.”

Julia D’Amico, a sixth grader in Mineola School District, was on a team with her sister Valerie D’Amico, a second grader. They were the youngest finalists in the competition, and presented about the life and work of Mildred Dresselhaus, the “Queen of Carbon.”

“It was a very good experience getting to present in front of a crowd,” said Julia D’Amico. “I’m really glad to have the chance to learn about such an important woman,” added Valerie.

The first place team received an award of $1000, the second place team received an award of $750, and the third place team received $500.

Winners of the 2024 IACS Competition:

First Place
Kayla Vessalico and Fiona Ash, Berner Middle School

Second Place 
Marina Ioannou, South Side High School

Third Place
Madison Lee and Kloe Kaplan, Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School

Honorary Mention
Julia D’Amico and Valerie D’Amico, Mineola Middle School
Noah Berlin, Julia Zinkin and Noah Kay, Half Hollow Hills High School East
Ava Sacarin, Deer Park High School

— Beth Squire

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