STEM Education Program Gives Rise to Gold Medalist in Olympics of the Mind

Brian Chen, participant of ARISE program and entering freshman, wins first place in citywide competition

To be chosen to take part in Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering (ARISE), 10th and 11th grade New York City students must have a demonstrated interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and proven academic strengths. When Brian Chen, now a senior at Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, first applied to the program — organized by the Center for K12 STEM Education at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and generously funded by the Pinkerton Foundation — his qualifications were evident. He had already established himself as an avid aspiring scientist at Murrow, where he had conducted biological research with UV radiation on microorganisms, and his grades were stellar.

ARISE includes college-level workshops and seminars, experience in faculty labs, and intense mentoring, and Chen was one of two students chosen to work in the composite materials and mechanics lab run by Associate Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Nikhil Gupta, who is well known for his discovery of innovative new composites that have been used in the marine, automotive, and aerospace industries, among other applications.

Gupta’s faith in Chen’s abilities was recently confirmed: the senior took home a gold medal in New York City’s “Olympics of the Mind” competition and will be moving on to the nationals in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 14.

“I think [ARISE] is one of the best opportunities for high school students to get professional laboratory experience, and also it’s completely free,” he said. So hard did he work that Gupta allowed him to continue his affiliation with the lab even after ARISE had ended. “Dr. Gupta and [research assistant] Steven Zeltmann both helped me and supported me greatly, teaching me the basic principles needed in the fields of engineering and physics, and more,” he continued.Like all participants in ARISE, Chen was introduced to the scientific method and ethics, data collection and analysis, and research practices. He conducted authentic experiments and presented his results at the end of the summer at a colloquium.

“At the Olympics of the Mind competition, Brian presented work that he had conducted in my lab,” Gupta explained. “One of the things that he and Steven did was start working with a new kind of particle, and this turned out to be better than what we had been using previously.” Chen and Zeltmann found that in comparison to soda lime borosilicate glass (the material with which Gupta had previously been working), particles made up of only borosilicate glass were stronger and had other desirable properties. “Based on their work, we wrote manuscripts for two papers that we submitted to journals, and they are under review right now,” said Gupta.

According to Director of the Center for K12 STEM Education Ben Esner, the purpose of ARISE is to “introduce students to research and scientific work and excite them toward education in STEM fields. The idea is that if they are exposed to the research-based universities, we hope that these students elect to stay in the STEM field for their undergraduate and graduate education.”

While that goal is broader than simply bringing prospective students to NYU, it’s gratifying when they do choose Tandon — a path Chen will be taking in the fall. Of his decision to study applied physics and eventually complete a dual degree in that field and mechanical engineering, he said, “I love questioning and discovering things, and I’m looking forward to doing that at NYU.” 

Judy Lee
College of Arts and Science
B.A. in Sociology, Class of 2018