22 Mar 2013

Young Talent Gathers at OIST

While many talented researchers call OIST home today, the university also places emphasis on the scientific stars of tomorrow. Over the past week, OIST has hosted two events that foster the skills and ideas of young, budding scientists and entrepreneurs: the Science in Okinawa: Research for Enterprise (SCORE!) competition and the ‘How Will Basic Science Save the World?’ poster contest.

On March 16, 2013, 14 teams from 10 local high schools participated in SCORE!, a competition jointly hosted by OIST, the U.S. Consulate General in Naha, the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education and other organizations. With 10 minutes each, competitors explained how their scientific project could be turned into a business that would directly impact society. While all of the winners will spend time at OIST as interns, they were also awarded three individual prizes.

1st Prize, an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, went to Haruna Miyazato and Tomomi Shimabukuro from Okinawa National College of Technology (ONCT) for their project on manufacturing anti-aging cosmetics from the discarded peels of the Okinawan citrus fruit, shekwasa. The students not only proved themselves to be solid scientists with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, but also good English speakers.

2nd Prize went to Natsuki Yamashiro, Ryouki Namizato and Yukino Higa from Hokubu Norin Senior High School for their idea of integrating powdered shekwasa pulp, which is also discarded during juice production, into food products to improve general wellness. These three young innovators were awarded iPads for their accomplishments.

Masashi Miyazato, Aya Ooishi and Miyu Nikawadori from Chubu Norin Senior High School received hotel vouchers for their 3rd Prize victory for designing a system to improve the resistance to disease and insects of local purple sweet potato, beni imo.

On March 18 and 19, 2013, the OIST Graduate School also hosted 14 semi-finalists, flown in from all over Japan, for the 'How Will Basic Science Save the World?' poster contest. These students created posters in English that advertised how a fundamental idea in science might aid today’s society. In addition to a free trip to Okinawa, all the semi-finalists took part in a workshop on “Effective Academic Presentation in English” by OIST’s resident English teacher, Kevin Hunt. The group also had opportunities to interact with OIST PhD students, researchers, and faculty members, and take a tour of the campus.

The Grand Prize went to Natsuko Hikiji, a student from Hiroshima University majoring in Physics, for her poster and presentation about using piezoelectric materials to produce green energy. She explained how the material could transform mechanical energy, produced from people jumping or dancing, into electrical energy that can power our everyday appliances.

Honorable Mentions also went to Midori Kawasaki, a biology student from Keio University, and Megumi Oya, a medical student from Juntendo University. Ms. Kawasaki covered how learning more about our metabolism could lead to preventative medicines. Ms. Oya discussed the many applications and importance of mathematical modeling using supercomputers.

“These outstanding young students not only showed us that they could excel in science, but also that they could communicate their work clearly and effectively -- a vital skill future scientists must possess,” said Neil Calder, Vice President, Communications and Public Relations Division, who participated as a judge in both events. “On the topic of the future of science, it’s also worth noting nearly all of the winners from both competitions were young women.”

By Vanessa Schipani


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