12-Year-Old Uses Optical Illusions to Better Understand Cognitive Processing; Wins $25,000 Top Award at the Broadcom MASTERS

Broadcom MASTERS Awards $100,000 in Prizes, Inspiring and Rewarding the Nation’s Next Generation of Scientists, Engineers and Innovators

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science & the Public today announced that Ishana Kumar, 12, from Chappaqua, New York, won the coveted $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, the top award in the Broadcom MASTERS®, the nation’s premier science and engineering competition for middle school students.

Through her project, Ishana investigated whether retinal fatigue changes our perception of “imaginary colors,” an illusion of color most commonly seen from a spinning black and white disk, called a Benham’s disk. She had her subjects look at the Benham’s disk, and then stare at a red, blue or green light. Next, her subjects stared back at the Benham’s disk, and determined whether the imaginary colors changed as a result of retinal fatigue, the phenomenon that occurs when someone stares at a brightly lit, colored area for a while. Ishana’s research could lead to a better understanding of eye disease, our neural pathways as well as both color and cognitive processing.

The other top winners tackled pressing issues including climate change, gender parity in clinical trials, gerrymandering and communicating with the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars), a program of the Society for Science & the Public, inspires middle school students to follow their personal passions to exciting college and career paths. Thirty finalists, including Ishana, took home more than $100,000 in awards.

For the first time, the competition took place virtually to keep the finalists and their families safe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Each of the 30 finalists participated in online team challenges in addition to being judged on their science research project. The challenges leveraged project-based learning and tested their mastery of 21st Century skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration in each of the STEM areas. The finalists’ projects, meanwhile, brought a fresh perspective to solving global challenges from wildfires to eye disease to data security.

“Congratulations to Ishana, for her fresh take on the role of retinal fatigue on imaginary colors and the leadership she exhibited during the Broadcom MASTERS team challenges,” said Maya Ajmera, President & CEO of the Society for Science & the Public and Publisher of Science News. “From climate change to gerrymandering, it is so inspiring to see young people identify a large problem in our world and then zero in on a way that they can make a difference using their STEM knowledge. I have great expectations for all of this year’s Broadcom MASTERS.”

“The entire Broadcom family congratulates Ishana and the entire class of the 2020 Broadcom MASTERS,” said Paula Golden, President of the Broadcom Foundation. “To compete and bond as a dynamic cohort has been made more challenging in the face of a worldwide pandemic, yet they found a way to come together in competition and friendship. They will forever be remembered for their enthusiasm and perseverance as young scientists and engineers.”

Ishana Kumar, 12, Chappaqua, NY, won the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, for her project investigating optical illusion and Benham’s disk as well as her leadership, collaboration and critical thinking skills. The prize is a gift of Dr. Henry Samueli, Chairman of the Board, Broadcom Inc., and Chair of the Broadcom Foundation and his wife, Dr. Susan Samueli, President of the Samueli Foundation.

Charlotte Lenore Simon Michaluk, 14, Pennington, NJ, won the $10,000 DoD STEM Talent Award for demonstrating excellence in science, technology, engineering or math, along with the leadership and technical skills necessary to excel in the 21st Century STEM workforce and build a better community for tomorrow. In her project, Charlotte found that a silicone type called PDMS combined with 3D models mimicking the Mako shark teeth would improve the coating for cargo ship hulls by limiting biofouling and in the transfer of invasive species.

Julian Olschwang, 14, Los Angeles, CA, won the $10,000 Lemelson Award for Invention, awarded by The Lemelson Foundation to a young inventor creating promising product-based solutions to real-world problems. In his project, Julian developed a low-cost glove that could convert sign language to text or speech.

Kai Vernooy, 14, Niskayuna, NY, won the $10,000 Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation, an honor made possible by Samueli’s generous donation of his 2012 Marconi Society Prize Award. The finalist demonstrates both vision and promise as an innovator, in the spirit of radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi. For his project, Kai studied gerrymandering and used a mathematical algorithm to draw voting districts that are more fair.

Zoe Weissman, 14, Plantation, FL, won the $10,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement, which recognizes the student whose work and performance shows the most promise in health-related fields and demonstrates an understanding of the many social factors that affect health. Through her research, Zoe learned that most clinical trials for new drugs use more male subjects than female subjects, as a result more pain medicines are geared towards men. Zoe worked to identify natural alternatives to opioids that could help both sexes.

Broadcom MASTERS winners were chosen from the 30 finalists selected from 3,476 applicants in 42 states and Puerto Rico. Winners were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, engineers and educators. Each finalist’s school will receive $1,000 from the Broadcom MASTERS program to benefit their STEM initiatives.

In addition to the top prizes, the Broadcom Foundation and the Society also announced first and second place winners in each of the STEM categories of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the Team Award and two Rising Stars who will be the U.S. delegates at the Broadcom MASTERS International and official observers to Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

Winners Include:

The Samueli Foundation Prize: $25,000
Ishana Kumar
, Color Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The Role of Retinal Fatigue on Imaginary Fechner Colors

DoD STEM Talent Award: $10,000
Charlotte Lenore Simon Michaluk
, Simulating Slipping Snails: Mitigating Climate Change and Oceanborne Invasive Species Transport with Biomimicry

Lemelson Award for Invention: $10,000
Julian Olschwang
, Talk to the Hand

Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation: $10,000
Kai Vernooy
, Hacking the Election: Measuring and Solving Gerrymandering in Today’s Political System

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement: $10,000
Zoe Weissman
, Testing Phytochemicals for Antinociceptive Properties in Both Female and Male Drosophila melanogaster in Order to Discover a Natural Painkiller and Reduce Bias in the Drug Industry

STEM Award Winners:

First and second place winners of STEM Awards demonstrated acumen and promise in science, technology, engineering and math. First place winners were awarded $3,500 and second place winners receive $2,500 to support his or her choice of a STEM summer camp experience in the U.S. Top awards in math were sponsored by Robert John Floe, President, Floe Financial Partners.

Science Award:

  • First place: Logan Silvea, Correlation Between Interocular Signal Delay and Luminosity, Measured Through the Perceived Intensity of the Pulfrich Effect, Noting the Impact of Ocular Dominance (2 Year Study – Psychological Adaptations and Optical Illusions)
  • Second place: Madilyne Kay Beaudry, Bioplastic Development; Yielding Lactic Acid Using Compost

Technology Award:

  • First place: Amelia Belle Curran, Comparing the Efficiency, Free Fatty Acid Percentage, and Carbon Dioxide Emissions of Waste Vegetable Oil and Ethiopian Mustard (Brassica carinata) Biodiesels
  • Second place: Pauline Victoria Allasas Estrada, Real-Time Detection of Drought Stress in Plants Using a Custom-Built Infrared Sensing Rover

Engineering Award:

  • First place: Anita Gaenko, Not All That Is Yellow Is Turmeric: Designing Analytical Chemistry Methods and Photometric Circuitry to Detect Lead Chromate Adulteration of Turmeric
  • Second place: JT Mulvihill, Designing a Football Helmet Lining and Coating for Maximum Rotational and Linear Impact Force Reduction

Mathematics Award:

  • First place: Sina Sean Kassayan, Biometric Authentication in a Heartbeat: An Artificial Intelligence Deep Learning-Based Heart Sound Authentication System
  • Second place: Joshua W. Cox, Lift Off! Finding Rockets Using Sound Waves

Rising Star Awards:

In recognition of their promise as two of the youngest competitors, two Rising Stars win the opportunity to represent the United States as a delegate to Broadcom MASTERS International and participate as special observers to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest international high school science fair competition.

  • Lucas Katz, A Spherical Omnidirectional Motor for Electric Vehicles
  • Snigtha Mohanraj, Effectiveness of the Organic Polymers for Removing Microplastic in an Aqueous Solution

Team Award: Each member of the team that best demonstrates their ability to work together and solve problems through shared decision making, communication and scientific and engineering collaboration will receive a gift card to a science supply company to support their interests in STEM.

Silver Team – Ishan Ahluwalia, Vivaana Haval, Kai Vernooy, Abhijeet Ghosh and Charlotte Lenore Simon Michaluk

Broadcom Leadership Award:

The Broadcom Leadership Award is bestowed upon the Broadcom MASTERS finalist elected by his or her peers to speak on behalf of their class at the Awards Ceremony. The Class Speaker demonstrates the collegiality and spirited leadership that has earned the collective esteem of the class throughout the Broadcom MASTERS competition and united them around common goals.

  • Agastya Sridharan, Quantifying the Impact of Search-Order Bias on Voting Preferences Using a Simulated Web Environment


For more information on the Broadcom MASTERS, visit the Broadcom Foundation and Society websites. To keep up with the Broadcom MASTERS, use the hashtag #brcmMASTERS or follow Broadcom Foundation and the Society on Twitter or the Society on Instagram. To stay connected, visit the Broadcom MASTERS and Society Facebook pages. You can also follow the Society on Snapchat (Society4Science).

About Broadcom Foundation

Founded in April 2009, the Broadcom Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation the mission of advancing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education by funding research, recognizing scholarship and increasing opportunity.

The foundation inspires young people to pursue careers in STEM and to develop 21st Century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.  It is a founding member of the National STEM Funders Network and plays a leadership role in the STEM Education Ecosystem Initiative in the US and Israel.

The foundation’s signature programs, the Broadcom MASTERS® and the Broadcom MASTERS® International, are the premier science and engineering competitions for middle school students around the United States and the world.

Learn more at http://broadcomfoundation.org/ and follow us on Twitter (@BroadcomSTEM).

About Society for Science & the Public

Society for Science & the Public is dedicated to the achievement of young scientists in independent research and to public engagement in science. Established in 1921, the Society is a nonprofit whose vision is to promote the understanding and appreciation of science and the vital role it plays in human advancement. Through its world-class competitions, including the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, and the Broadcom MASTERS, and its award-winning magazine, Science News and Science News for Students, Society for Science & the Public is committed to inform, educate, and inspire. Learn more at www.societyforscience.org and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Snapchat (Society4Science).