STEM Students Making their Mark
Students in Taft’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs routinely test their mettle against the best and the brightest student from across the globe. Taft enjoyed a particularly successful year on the international competition circuit, earning honors and accolades across disciplines. Here are some of the highlights from the past academic year.
- Taft scientists Sonny An '17, Daniel Yi '18, Yejin Kim '18, and Portia Wang '18 faced 50 teams from across the Northeast at Yale University’s 19th annual Physics Olympics. The team was awarded the bronze medal after five rounds of competition. The five, 45-minute challenges were developed by members of the Yale physics faculty to test students’ knowledge of complex physics concepts, and their ability to apply that knowledge effectively and creatively to solve problems.
- Two teams of 15 students traveled to the University of Connecticut to compete in the Connecticut State Science Olympiad. Within each team, competitors worked in pairs to tackle "events" across a range of disciplines, from forensics and astronomy to physiology and ecology. At the end of 23 events, Taft's "A" team logged a sixth place finish overall in a field of 49 teams. Tafts teams earned six medals overall, including a second place medal by Taft Team B members Bill Lu '19 and Mihir Nayar '19 for their robotic arm. Approximately 15,000 schools participate in Science Olympiad events across the nation.
- Taft was the regional winner in the 2017 Physics Bowl competition, sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers. Taft bested perennial regional powerhouses, including the Academy of Aerospace/Engineering, for the win. Of the more than 7,000 students from nearly 600 schools across the globe that competed in the Bowl, Daniel Yi ’18 finished fifth in Division 2, while Sonny An ’17 earned the second highest score in the region.
Technology and Engineering
- Two teams represented Taft at the 2017 Trinity College International Robot Contest. The challenge requires teams to build autonomous robots that can navigate a model home in search of a fire, represented by a burning candle, and then effectively extinguish the flame. Shasha Alvares '17, Jona Vithoontien '17, and Julia Kashimura '20 built a robot that successfully extinguished the candle on all five trials, the best a Taft team has ever done. Teams are also encouraged to prepare presentations that describe the process of developing their robot; Shasha Alvares won first place in her division for her presentation. Taft also earned a 2017 Outstanding Connecticut Robot award from the Connecticut chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
- The Technology Students Association (TSA) Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science (TEAMS) competition is a one-day challenge in which teams of eight students apply math and science knowledge in solving real-world engineering problems. The theme for this year's competition was "Engineering the Environment," which consisted of three categories: an essay on the development and improvement of the use of renewable energy; an 80-question test on topics related to identified scenarios and researched by teams prior to the event; and the construction of a robotic arm that can move objects with precision, using a specific set of materials. There were separate categories for students in grades 9 and 10 and those in grades 11 and 12. In the Grades 11-12 Competition, Taft did best in the design category, with Taft A taking first place, and Taft B placing third. In the Grades 9-10 Competition, Taft finished first in essay category, and second on the test, securing a second place finish overall. Nearly 600 schools from across the nation competed for the overall prize.
- The competitive season traditionally kicks off with the annual Math Bash, a competition among peer prep schools. Tafties took on competitors from Choate, Hotchkiss, Deerfield, and Kent at both the advanced and intermediate levels. Sonny An ’17 took top honors in the advanced-level individual round, while Taft edged out Hotchkiss to secure the meet's top honors.
- The New England Mathematics League (NEML) hosts monthly contests, running through March of each school year. NEML events consist of a set of six problems of increasing complexity. Students work individually to solve those problems, earning one point for each correct answer. The team’s 163 cumulative points earned them the top spot in Litchfield County, besting second-place finisher Kent School by more than 30 points, and nearly doubling Hotchkiss's score. It also gave them the Connecticut state title, and a top-ten spot in New England.
- More than 350,000 students from over 6,000 schools participate in the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) each year. Only five percent of all 11th and 12th grade competitors advance from the first round to the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), while only 2.5 percent of 9th and 10th graders are invited to move on to the prestigious second round. Taft had seven students qualify for the AIME. Peter Yu '20 was particularly impressive, earning a near-perfect score in the competition. Yu and An were among the five hundred competitors chosen to go on to the United States of America Junior Mathematical Olympiad (USAJMO) and the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO), respectively.
"Making this cut is a significant accomplishment," Zipoli explained. "We're talking about a fraction of the top, of the top, of the top."