Local Mass Academy students head to national science symposium


Region – Two juniors at the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will present their research and compete against 230 students nationwide at a science and humanities symposium in Maryland after winning top honors on the regional level.

Karthik Karnik, of Westborough, and Amol Punjabi, of Northborough, will participate in the national Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) in Hunt Valley, Md., April 29-May 2.

Karnik’s oral presentation on his project, “Juggling Braids: A Novel Algorithmic Model Linking the Braid Group to Siteswaps,” placed first at the Southern New England JSHS at the University of New Hampshire in March. Punjabi placed second with a presentation on his STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) project, “Rethinking Drug Discovery: New Algorithms for Virtual Drug Screening.”

For his research paper and presentation, Karnik earned the First Place Oral Presentation Award: a $2,000 scholarship. Punjabi won a $1,500 scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces.

“When I first submitted my project I was amazed to hear that I was chosen as an oral presenter,” Karthik said. “Then I was honored to have taken first place at the regional symposium, and I am excited for the national level symposium.”

In his project, he developed a generation algorithm for generating the number of crossings in the braids corresponding to juggling patterns. He also arrived at various key results and made progress toward an open problem in mathematics.

Punjabi, in his work looking at new algorithms for virtual drug screening, was trying to develop computer programs that can accurately predict whether a molecule is a potential drug against a particular target. He was able to design two statistical algorithms that worked together to identify the first known inhibitor of a cancer-causing protein. He said his computational approach can make the first step of drug discovery faster and less expensive.

“I’m looking forward to sharing my work with Department of Defense researchers…and hearing their perspective on it,” he said.

Mass Academy Director Michael G. Barney said the students’ ingenuity combined with their STEM project-based learning is a winning combination.

“Karthik and Amol are extremely bright, motivated students who are tapping into new ideas and technologies that could one day change many lives for the better,” he said.

The JSHS Program promotes original research and experimentation in the sciences, engineering and math at the high school level. JSHS is a collaborative effort with the research arm of the Department of Defense and administered in cooperation with colleges and universities nationwide.