This post is part of a series profiling the top 22 Best of Category award winners of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) 2019. Intel ISEF is the largest pre-college, international STEM competition in the world. This year’s competition included participants from 80 countries, regions and territories. Every year, the brightest young scientists from all over the world come together to participate in this incredible fair.
In this year’s competition, one of the top winners in the category of mathematics, AnaMaria Perez of Albuquerque, New Mexico, developed a way to study magic squares. Magic squares are squares divided into an equal number of rows and columns so that when each is filled with a different number, all the rows, columns and diagonals add up to the same number. AnaMaria proved the conditions necessary for symmetry and corrected inconsistencies in previous work.
Here is our conversation with AnaMaria.
What was your experience like at Intel ISEF?
My first ISEF was as an observer three years ago in Phoenix. This year, I was lucky enough to return a competitor. I feel at home at ISEF, able to strike up conversations with people from across the world within seconds: “Nice to meet you! Where are you from? What’s your project on?” This year I played ping pong with friends, old and new, attended the finalist mixer and got lost in Phoenix trying to find a memorable pizza place. Each day was an adventure and, even though there’s an outlined schedule, you never know exactly what you’ll end up doing or who you’ll end up meeting.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned thus far in your scientific career?
To not compare myself to those around me and know that as long as I put my heart into what I do, I am good enough. Each person has different strengths and something unique to contribute, and I have learned to take inspiration from the stories of those around me.
How do you deal with setbacks?
There are many times I’ve faced setbacks, either when I’ve failed to reach my goals or when I’ve hit a roadblock in my work. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s never easy to hold in emotions and frustration—it’s always more helpful to have an outlet, even if that’s just the listening ear of someone who cares. I know I can always count on my mom and a few of my closest friends to offer perspective and encouragement when I am stressed about setbacks in my life.
What is the last book you read?
The last book I read on my own was The Other Einstein. The last book I read in school was The Handmaid’s Tale. Together, they underscore the roles in society that women are frequently forced to adopt. The Other Einstein shows the human side of Einstein, one of the most immortalized geniuses of the 20th century. Though Einstein had a brilliant mind, the novel focuses on how he influenced his first wife, in all her own brilliance, into a subservient position. Similarly, The Handmaid’s Tale discusses how women are often relegated to bearing children, keeping house or engaging with other women in social activity. They are barred from working, reading or making their own choices. As both main characters try to reclaim their lives, their journeys serve as warnings against complacency and inspire readers to challenge the status quo.
How do you unwind when you’re not doing research?
You can find me sitting back with a black tea latte, doing handstands in the hallway or trying to perfect my contortionist act (just kidding, I’m not nearly flexible or balanced enough). I also enjoy drawing, painting and paper crafts. Above all, though, I love playing Just Dance with friends and blasting music with my sister as we drive to Chick-fil-A and joking around with family as we watch a movie or go on a walk. When I’m trying to unwind, these are the moments I treasure most.