Skip To Main Content

West High Student Wins Spot in International Science Program

Two Utah high school students who were finalists in the University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair (USEF) will attend the prestigious WebValley online summer school. WebValley admitted 20 students total, only five of whom live in the United States. WebValley is a data science and artificial intelligence program run by the Fondazione Bruno Kessler, a top research institute based in Italy—this year the students will attend virtually.

Clara Tandar and her project

Clara Tandar, a senior at West High School, and Tarun Martheswaran, a senior at The Waterford School, were invited to apply to the competitive program because their USEF projects had qualified for the International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF), although ISEF was canceled due to COVID-19. Their projects are titled Aurora Kinase Inhibitor Synergy Screen to Enhance Chemotherapeutic Sensitivity and An Enhanced Early Detection Model of Dengue Fever Outbreaks Using SEIR Infectious Disease Epidemiological Compartments, Generalized Linear Regression Relationships, and Statistical Computing, respectively.

“These students are doing graduate-level research for their projects. They’re incredibly motivated and have taken their own initiative to become scientists,” said Jody Oostema, program manager for USEF at the U’s Center for Science & Mathematics Education since 2005. Oostema coordinates the annual spring event at The Tower in Rice-Eccles Stadium, finds the 250 qualified judges—half of whom are U faculty—and acts as a mentor to the USEF Student Advisory Board.

Tandar has competed in the Utah fair since 2017. In May of her sophomore year, she connected with Trudy Oliver, associate professor and HCI Endowed Chair in cancer research whose lab focuses on drug response and drug resistance in lung cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in America.

Tandar’s project dealt with small-cell lung cancer (SCLC), a highly aggressive form of lung cancer. People with SCLC have lower survival rates due to a lack of effective therapies. For her science fair project, Tandar investigated various drug combinations to determine the most cytotoxic treatments through a primary and secondary drug screen.

“Dr. Oliver is amazing, Every time I’m in the lab, I learn so much from everyone.” Tandar said. “She gave me a lot of independence with this project, while still being so generous with her skill and guidance. It’s an amazing experience that I am lucky to have.”

Tandar is thrilled to be participating in WebValley to improve her computational biology skills, including coding and single-cell sequencing.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Tandar said. “There are few experiences like it available to kids my age. Especially from an interdisciplinary approach to computational biological research.”