Maryland and New Jersey High School Scientists Win Regional Siemens Competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for Research on Gold Nanostructures and Number Theory

Students Earn Top Prizes at Nation’s Premier STEM Competition

Molly Zhang of Rockville, Maryland, Wins Top Individual Prize;
Jonathan Chan of Closter, New Jersey and Michael Seaman of Short Hills, New Jersey, Win Top Team Prize

Molly Zhang is the individual category winner of the Siemens Competition regional event held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She advances to the National Finals in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Business Wire)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--()--Months of dedication and hard work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) paid off tonight for three students named National Finalists in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, the nation’s premier research competition for high school students. Molly Zhang of Rockville, Maryland earned the top honors and a $3,000 individual scholarship for research on gold nanostructures. Research in number theory earned Jonathan Chan of Closter, New Jersey and Michael Seaman of Short Hills, New Jersey the $6,000 team scholarship.

The students presented their research this weekend to a panel of judges from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), host of the Region Five Finals. They will now present their work on a national stage in Washington, D.C., December 5-9, 2014, where $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including two top prizes of $100,000. The Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by Discovery Education.

“These incredible students have invested significant time and energy to advance research and exploration in critical fields,” said David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation. “I commend the finalists for their outstanding achievements and wish them luck in the next phase of the competition.”

The Winning Individual

Molly Zhang, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, won the individual category and a $3,000 scholarship for her project, titled “Temporal-Spatially Transformed Synthesis of Novel Gold Bellflowers with Ultrahigh Photo-Thermal Conversion Efficiency for Cancer Theranostics.”

Molly’s research builds upon the ongoing exploration of using gold nanoparticles in the fight against cancer. In search of the ideal nanostructure that would yield best treatment results, she constructed gold nanostructures in the shape of small bellflowers that can potentially diagnose and treat malignancies. These tiny bellflowers absorb a laser’s light, transform it to heat, and then use that heat to destroy any surrounding tumorous growth, essentially “cooking” cancer cells. The particular structure that Molly succeeded in synthesizing shows tremendous promise given its high photothermal conversion efficiency, or how well absorbed light is turned into localized heat.

“Thermal therapy for the eradication of cancerous tissues is an interesting approach being actively explored by a number of research groups,” said Alex K. Shalek, Hermann L.F. Von Helmholtz Career Development Assistant Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Assistant Professor of Chemistry at MIT. “In our discussions with Molly, she was poised, articulate, modest and displayed a deep understanding of the chemical and physical principles behind her project. Her findings open up clear avenues for exciting future research.”

That research may yet be done by Molly, as she hopes to work as a scientist one day in the future. Already, Molly is an AP Scholar with Distinction, and a National Merit Semifinalist. She is a member of the National Honor Society and the re-founder for Codi’s Hats, an organization supplying hats free of charge to cancer patients. She plays volleyball (Girls and Co-ed), guitar, and piano. Additionally, she tutors math (including calculus) at her school.

“I believe that students must be encouraged to pursue math and science at a young age,” said Molly. “Interesting demonstrations and classes should be provided so young children are motivated to learn the subjects.”

For Molly, that encouragement to immerse herself in STEM fields came from her mentor, Dr. Xiaoyuan Chen, Senior Investigator at the National Institutes of Health.

The Winning Team

Jonathan Chan, Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, New Jersey and Michael Seaman, homeschooled in Short Hills, New Jersey won the team category and will share a $6,000 scholarship for their project, titled “On the Distribution of Discriminants Over a Finite Field.”

For their project in arithmetic statistics, Jonathan and Michael proved a theorem about the distribution of discriminants of monic polynomials in finite fields. Many digital communication devices rely on finite fields, such as cell phones, CD players and even space probes. Beyond applications in technology, the mathematical patterns the students identified could have applications in cryptology, or coding messages for secure communications.

“A beautiful project in number theory,” said Haynes Miller, Professor of Mathematics, MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT. “Their proof identified a striking and previously unnoticed regularity in the algebraic properties of polynomials and provided a simple and elegant explanation for it.”

Jonathan founded a club at his school dedicated to teaching number theory. “I believe many bright young math students are daunted by math research because they believe it might be out of the scope of their abilities,” explained Jonathan. “It takes success stories like that of my group to motivate younger students to solve open problems.”

He hopes to one day work as a mathematics professor or researcher. Beyond his love of numbers, Jonathan is an avid lacrosse enthusiast, playing as a starter on his school’s varsity team, and is a member of Relay for Life.

Michael’s accolades include being a 2014 AP National Scholar, and an alumnus of two Mathematical Olympiad Summer Programs. “I love the beauty of math: the deep connections between different and seemingly unrelated areas of math,” explained Michael. His passion for problem solving earned him a spot as a Team Selection Test Participant for the 2015 USA International Mathematical Olympiad team, considered the pinnacle of mathematical competitions among high school students.

The duo is grateful for the support they received from their shared mentor Dr. Keith Conrad, Math Department, University of Connecticut.

Regional Finalists

The remaining Regional Finalists each received a $1,000 scholarship. Regional Finalists in the individual category were:

  • Hyunsoo Chung, Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
  • Andrew Luo, Lexington High School, Lexington, MA
  • Ashley Rodriguez, The Potomac School, McLean, VA
  • Zaixing Shi, School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt, Nashville, TN

Team Regional Finalists were:

  • Devorah Saffern, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, Teaneck, NJ; Julie Vaughn, Canyon Crest Academy, San Diego, CA
  • Mahima Shah, High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ; Ruby Guo, High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ
  • Arun Soni, Staples High School, Westport, CT; Kwangmyung Choi, Canyon Crest Academy, San Diego, CA; Russell Charnoff, HAFTR High School, Cedarhurst, NY
  • Lily Xu, Liberal Arts & Science Academy, Austin, TX; Simantini Mitra-Behura, Debakey High School for Health Professions, Houston, TX; Brandon Alston, Saint John’s School, Houston, TX

The Siemens Competition

This year marks the 15th Anniversary of the Siemens Competition, the nation’s premier research competition for high school students. A record 4,428 students registered for this year’s competition and submitted a total of 1,784 projects for consideration – a 12% increase over the number of projects submitted last year. 408 students were named semifinalists and 97 were named regional finalists, representing 38 states. Entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists from six leading research universities which host the regional competitions: California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Notre Dame and The University of Texas at Austin.

For news and announcements about the Regional Competitions and the National Finals, follow us on Twitter @SFoundation (#SiemensComp) and like us on Facebook at SiemensFoundation.

About the Siemens Foundation

The Siemens Foundation supports educational initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the United States. Its signature programs include the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology and Siemens Science Day. The Foundation’s mission is based on the culture of innovation, research and educational support that is the hallmark of Siemens’ U.S. companies. For further information, visit or follow @sfoundation.

About Discovery Education

Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-based digital content and professional development for K-12, transforming teaching and learning with award-winning digital textbooks, multimedia content that supports the implementation of Common Core, professional development, assessment tools, and the largest professional learning community of its kind. Available in over half of all U.S. schools and primary schools in England, community colleges and in 50 countries around the world, Discovery Education partners with districts, states and like-minded organizations to captivate students, empower teachers, and transform classrooms with customized solutions that accelerate academic achievement. Discovery Education is powered by Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), the number one nonfiction media company in the world. Explore the future of education at

Photos of winners available on request.


Weber Shandwick
Christine Gary, 202-585-2898
Amanda Naiman, 484-680-4427


Weber Shandwick
Christine Gary, 202-585-2898
Amanda Naiman, 484-680-4427