Iowa Students Showcase Innovation and Excellence at the International Science and Engineering Fair


May 31, 2024, 8:15 am | Sydney Peterson, Alexa Groff

Iowa delegation at the International Science and Engineering Fair.LOS ANGELES – Fifteen Iowa youth scientists and engineers have returned from the prestigious International Science and Engineering Fair held May 11-17 in Los Angeles. This annual event, the world's largest international pre-college science competition, brought together over 1,700 high school students from more than 65 countries to present their groundbreaking research and innovations.

Representing Iowa were 15 exceptional students who earned their spots through rigorous regional and state science fair competitions. Youth finalists were Benjamin Lothamer, Mid Prairie Homeschool Assistance Program; Ishita Mukadam and Antariksha Sharma, both of Maharishi Schools; Taylor Ommen, West Central Valley; Hannah Woudstra, Sioux Center High School; Winston Fan, Shanza Sami, Sabrina Du, Anjali Lodh and Amal Eltayib, all of Iowa City West High School; Valerie Rahe, Beckman Catholic High School; Allison Gruntmeir, Central Lee High School; Ritvik Gupta, Johnston High School; and Ananya Balaji and Avyay Balaji, both of Ames High School.

Their projects covered a wide array of disciplines, including environmental science, plant science, translational medicine, cellular and molecular biology, and biomedical engineering, showcasing the depth and diversity of scientific inquiry within the state.

The top winners were honored during two award ceremonies: the Special Awards on May 16 and the Grand Awards Ceremony on the morning of May 17. Over $9 million in total was awarded to the finalists based on their projects' creativity, innovation and depth of scientific inquiry.

In addition to youth finalists, Iowa sent seven youth observers to experience ISEF. They are considered “rising stars” to help motivate them to return as finalists. The Eastern Iowa Science and Engineering Fair selects the top middle school project winners, and the Western Iowa Science and Engineering Fair selects the top ninth-grade project winners to receive trips to ISEF. The observers take part in all activities except judging. While finalists are getting judged, observers engage in a program that teaches them more about elite research. They also help the Society for Science with their outreach program.

Youth observers were Caedon Newton and Drake Newton, both of Central Lee Middle School; Abby Lampe and Riley Schechinger, both of Algona High School; and Annabelle Zahradnik, Allison Knipper and Andrea Schneider, all of Beckman Catholic High School.

"We are incredibly proud of our students' achievements at ISEF," said Alexa Groff, director of the Iowa State Science and Technology Fair and 4-H STEM specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. "Their dedication, creativity and passion for STEM are truly inspiring. Witnessing youth worldwide come together to celebrate science, technology, engineering and math is incredible. These young innovators represent not only their communities and our state but also the world, embodying the bright future of scientific discovery and technological advancement."

Highlights of the Iowa delegation's achievements

Finalists with award-placing projects from Iowa’s delegation. Grand awards are presented in each of the 22 ISEF project categories.

  • In Cellular and Molecular Biology, Ananya Balaji and Avyay Balaji received a fourth place award and $500 for their project, “A Mechanistic Analysis of Intraneuronal Amyloid Beta Aggregation Caused by Cellular Dysfunction in Alzheimer's Disease."
  • In Biomedical Engineering, Benjamin Lothamer received a third place award and $1,000 for his project, “Design and Development of an Open-Source, Myo-Electric Robotic Upper Limb Prosthesis Using Additive Manufacturing.”
  • In Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Ritvik Gupta received a fourth place award and $500 for his project, “ViGAR: Viral Genome Annotation with Recurrent Neural Networks — Facilitating Drug Therapy Research for Thousands of Understudied Viruses.”
  • In Earth and Environmental Sciences, Shanza Sami received a fourth place award and $500 for her project, “Pura Aerem: Computational Analysis and Prototype Optimization of a Novel Multi-Stage Extension Designed to Reduce PM10, CO2, CO Exiting TWC-OC Catalytic Converters.”
  • In Translational Medical Science, Ishita Mukadam received a fourth place award and $500 for her project, “Advancing Wound Infection Assessment by Utilizing pH-Sensitive Curcuma longa, Phase II.”

Other top honors and special awards were presented to Iowa delegates.

Ishita Mukadam received an award from the Air Force Research Laboratory on behalf of the United States Air Force. The Air Force Research Laboratory is a global technical enterprise whose mission is leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for U.S. air, space and cyberspace force. She received a first-place award of $750 in Translational Medical Science for her project, “Advancing Wound Infection Assessment by Utilizing pH-Sensitive Curcuma Longa, Phase II.” She also received a glass trophy and a USAF medal.

"Competing at ISEF was a dream come true," she said. "Meeting other students from around the world who are as passionate about science as I am was an unforgettable experience. Winning the award was just the cherry on top."

Antariksha Sharma with her first-place project.Antariksha Sharma received an award from the Drug, Chemical and Associated Technologies Association, a not-for-profit, corporate member-supported and volunteer-led global business development association for companies engaged in the bio/pharmaceutical manufacturing value chain. She received a first-place award of $5,000 for her project, “The Antibacterial Effect of Allium sativum on Gram-Positive and Gram-Negative Bacteria Phase II.”

"The talent, intelligence and potential of this year's Regeneron ISEF finalists is truly inspiring, and I congratulate each on their remarkable achievements," said George D. Yancopoulos, co-founder, board co-chair, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron. "Science competitions like ISEF were pivotal in shaping my own career and fueling my passion to fight back against disease. I look forward to seeing these students continue to push the boundaries of science and technology to create positive and sustainable change for all humanity."

ISEF 2024 provided a unique opportunity for these students to engage with peers, renowned scientists and industry professionals. It served as a platform to exchange ideas, foster international collaboration and inspire future careers in science and engineering.

The Iowa delegation's participation was made possible through the generous support of local businesses, educational institutions and community organizations committed to promoting STEM education. Top sponsors include Corteva Agriscience, Broadcom Foundation and Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

For more information on the International Science and Engineering Fair, visit www.societyforscience.org/isef. For more information on the State Science and Technology of Iowa, please visit https://sstfi.org/ or contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office.

About ISEF

The International Science and Engineering Fair, a program of the Society for Science, has been held annually since 1950. It is the world's premier science competition for high school students, celebrating and encouraging scientific talent across the globe. 2024 was the largest purse in history at $9 million. Regeneron ISEF provides a global stage for the world's best and brightest young scientists and engineers. Through this competition, Regeneron and the Society are fostering the next generation of STEM leaders who are pioneering solutions to improve our world. Since 2020, Regeneron has provided STEM experiences to approximately 2.4 million students, on track to meet its goal of 2.5 million by 2025.

Shareable photos

  • The 15 Iowa delegates pose for a group photo at the International Science and Engineering Fair.
  • Finalists with award-placing projects from Iowa’s delegation: (L-R) Benjamin Lothamer, Ritvik Gupta, Ishita Mukadam, Shanza Sami, and Ananya and Avyay Balaji. Missing from photo: Antariksha Sharma.
  • Antariksha Sharma's first-place project, “The Antibacterial Effect of Allium sativum on Gram-Positive and Gram-Negative Bacteria Phase II,” won her an award of $5,000 from the Drug, Chemical and Associated Technologies Association.
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