27 January 2011

Colorado's Top High School Aged Scientist

Tanya Nicole Petach

Colorado had one semi-finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search for 2010 (whose finalists were announced yesterday).

Sixteen year old Tanya Nicole Petach who is junior at Fairview High School, a public high school in the Boulder Valley School District known for its International Baccalaureate® program, completed a project titled: "Colorado River Salinity: Correlation to Geostrata and Mitigation with Carbon Fiber Capacitors." What did this involve?

Fairview High School student Tanya Petach‟s experiment centered on measuring salinity in the Colorado River at various points in a series of raft trips through the Grand Canyon. She then extended the analysis to include an estimate for the most efficient way to remove excess salts, computing the cubic volume of various filters necessary to mitigate the run-off. What was most surprising about the results? She commented, “I had expected that human contributions to the run-off from the South Rim to be the largest source of excess salinity. In fact, the geologic strata had the largest impact in each tributary.”

Tanya is the most outstanding high school scientist in the entire state of Colorado this year, and was one of just 11 sixteen year olds out of 300 semi-finalists (the remainder being 17 or 18 years old), in the entire nation, so she has another shot at a semifinalist or finalist finish in this year's competition, if she chooses to participate, as she did in her freshman, sophmore and junior years, and as her sister did before her for at least two years. NASA, which has a partnership with Fairview, did a profile of our hometown hero last fall, and the Daily Camera profiled her last winter.

As a semi-finalist, she will receive a $1,000 award for her outstanding research, and Fairview High School will receive an award of $1,000 to further excellence in science, math and engineering education at Fairview, each from Intel, although for both her and for Fairview, the reputational benefits of winning far outweigh the money. She also won a first prize worth $1,500 from the Association of Women Geoscientists, a third place award from the American Geological Institute (worth $250) for her project, a $1,500 award for the second best project in the Earth and Planetary Sciences category which brough in an additional $1,000 for Fairview as well.

In her sophmore year, at age fifteen, Tanya won an $8,000 tuition scholarship from the Office of Naval Research in the Department of the Navy for her project: "Mitigation of Soil Liquefaction with Magnetic Fields." and a Shell Oil Planetary and Earth Sciences Fourth Place Award garnered another $500 prize for the project. She was interviewed about the project here.

As a freshman at Fairview, Tanya and her older sister, Anika Rose Petach (two years older than Tanya), did a team project entitled "Pine Beetle Outbreaks: Spatial Analysis and Pheromone Population Control" which shared a fourth place prize for team projects (worth $500). The project was a Grand Award Winner in the 2008 Colorado State Science Fair.

These kind of successes are a "when it rains, it pours" situation, and no doubt there are other awards in connection with these projects that I have omitted.

Past Semi-Finalists From Colorado

In 2010, Colorado had two semi-finalists in the competition, both from Colorado Springs, Caleb Lloyd Kruse (17) who was home schooled and had a project entitled "Addressing Coral Tissue Regeneration, Bleaching, and Calcification Using Ascorbic Acid Supplementation" and Aarthi Shankar (17) of Rampart High School whose project was "Proteomic Characterization of Extracellular Matrix (ECM) to Identify Tumor Associated Biomolecules."

In 2009, Colorado also had two semi-finalists in the competition. One was Tanya's older sister, Anika Rose Petach, and the other semi-finalist was David Junzi (17) of Cherry Creek High School whose project was entitled "Charcoal and Methanol Synthesis by the Destructive Distillation of Cellulosic Waste—Chemical Processing and Environmental Implications."

A Talented Family

The Petach family has no shortage of talent. Tanya's older sister, Anika Rose Petach at age 17 in 2009, was a semi-finalist in the competition, with a project titled "Pine Beetle Outbreaks: Remote Sensing Analysis and Symbiotic Fungus Control," one of two from Colorado. Anika went on the Harvard University. She was profiled by the Daily Camera in 2009.

Their mom, Helen Petach, who earned her PhD at Cornell in chemistry, has co-authored several scholarly articles in the biotechnology field, is the founder of Abelian Energy, Inc., a Boulder Fuel Cell company, is the principal of single employee computer company Petach Technologies, Inc. and teaches physics at Fairview High School.

Their father, Marty Petach, has a Master's degree from Cornell in Soil Physics and is a GIS analyst.

Tanya and Anika's older brother, Trevor Petach, is also no slouch. He earned his bachelor's degree in Physics, Earth and Planetary Science last spring from Harvard University, and is spending a gap year teaching mathematics at Fairview High School this year. His successes were summarized when he won a $16,500 Micron Technology scholarhip:

Trevor Petach is an outstanding student with a perfect SAT Math score of 800. Petach has been involved in the Colorado State University Math Day Competitions, and as captain lead his team to a state championship while personally placing in the top 10 in the state of Colorado. He also participated in Math Club/Math League, Science Bowl, math and science tutoring, and is an International Baccalaureate student. Outside of school, Petach is an avid outdoorsman and athlete participating in cross country, Nordic racing, Boys Scouts (Eagle Scout), and the Colorado Mountain Club.

All three of the Petach siblings are notable athletes in cross country and Nordic skiing, as well as being talented scientists. And, it certainly wouldn't be surprising if Tanya followed the path of her two older siblings to Cambridge. Surely, her parents would quite proud, although two Harvard educations with another expensive college tuition bill around the corner can't be cheap.

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