Nadine Meister watched as her fellow students rattled off answers to the flash card math problems posed by their second grade teacher Ms. Ricketts.
Sitting in a circle aided Nadine’s ability to anticipate her turn and accelerate the cogs in her head to spin, like a relay athlete awaiting a baton pass. Just as soon as Ms. Price lifted the flash card, Meister blurted out an answer.
Not only was she fast, but she was correct. Their game of Around the World continued, with Meister standing out as the quickest and most accurate competitor each round. Though this was just a children’s game, it proved to propel Meister to pursue an interest in math.
“I really fell in love with that game,” Meister said. “They named me ‘the human calculator’ and it was really fun. One of my friends invited me to their math class their dad was teaching and from there I got really into math.”
Meister — an Ellicott City native — went on to compete in several math competitions throughout middle school and at EC’s Centennial High School, which she is currently a senior. As she studied math more, she realized that a lot of that content translated to science as well.
“Math felt often like the foundation of a lot of other sciences,” Meister said. “Doing that throughout elementary and middle school opened me up to other science fields. From there, I found out there are other cool topics, too.”
Now, Meister has the chance to display her knowledge as she was recently selected as a top-40 finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for her research on supercooled liquids. The Regeneron Science Talent Search, a program of Society for Science and the Public since 1942, is the oldest science and math competition for high school seniors in the United States.
Finalists, whose projects range from a variety of STEM topics, were selected based on their projects’ scientific rigor and their potential to become world-changing scientists and leaders.
Meister was aware of the Regeneron competition entering high school and knew she wanted to pursue it towards her final years, but that didn’t stop her amazement at qualifying.
“I was shocked,” Meister said. “I thought it was a joke at first. I was not expecting it. It was an honor.”
Meister initially became fascinated with this topic during an internship with the Army Research Lab during the summer of 2018 in Prince George’s County’s Adelphi, Maryland. She examined the transition process of phase- change metals, materials which transition from solids to liquids or vice versa, but couldn’t nail down a clear reason due to time or temperature as to why this transition happened.
“We had custom-built packaged chips that were supposed to measure this data, but they kept breaking,” Meister said. “In the whole summer, I only got one or two really clean, accurate runs. There wasn’t a clear explanation as to why they kept breaking so I wanted to study more of this phase transition phenomenon.”
Meister began further developing her research the following summer after being selected for the Research Science Institute Summer STEM program. There, she met her mentor, Dr. Udayan Mohanty, who has a background researching supercooled liquids.
“If you’re trying to make a metal stronger by heating it up at certain places in different areas, then if you change one little aspect that one certain variable will change a lot from nanoseconds all the way to thousands of years,” she said. “Just a small change will make that number change a lot so getting a really good understanding of that number is really important.”
Meister’s research for the Regeneron competition, though, was strictly theoretical. She faced trouble solving complex, differential equations during her research, leading her to narrow her aim.
“I could not solve the solution because it’s most likely impossible so I focused on finding the fixed point,” Meister said. “It’s sort of like the bottom of a bowl, where everything stabilizes. I focused on figuring out what happens at that point.”
The finalists will travel to D.C. from March 5-11 to have their projects judged, and will compete for more than $1.8 million in awards. They will also have the chance to interact with leading scientists, meet with members of Congress and display their projects to the public on March 8. The top 10 Regeneron Science Talent Search 2020 awards will be announced at a black-tie gala awards ceremony at the National Building Museum on March 10.
“I’m really excited to meet all the other finalists and get to know them, see how their brains work and interact with them,” Meister said. “I also want to improve my presenting skills and how I present my research.”-30-
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