2020 Senior Project Spotlight: BASIS Independent Silicon Valley

In their final trimester as BASIS Independent Silicon Valley students, after seniors have emerged from a deep dive into university-level, content-heavy capstone courses and completed the demanding college application process, they participate in their Senior Project–a high-level research project centered around a question or topic of their choosing. Some of our students are already a year in to the two year commitment that is the Senior Research Project.

What are Senior Projects and Senior Research Projects?

There are two different ways that seniors may participate in research. The Senior Project is the culmination of the BASIS Curriculum, and the final challenge our seniors face at the end of their academic journeys–the crown jewel of their high school experience and culmination of everything they have learned throughout their time at BASIS Independent Schools. Senior Projects started with the BASIS Curriculum Schools’ network very first senior class, in the spring of 2005. This program, at its core, is an entirely student-led (through professionally supervised) independent research project. The Senior Research Project is two years in the making. Students take AP Seminar as juniors, and then tackle AP Research as seniors. They take an additional layer of oversight in their projects as they must submit their findings to the College Board for a score.

Senior Projects in the time of COVID-19

2020 has certainly tested many industries and professions, with the field of education being no exception. Students, teachers, and administrators had to make an unexpected pivot in March as much of the world became locked down. Caught in the middle of all of this were our seniors who had elected to participate in Senior Projects or Senior Research Projects. Many of them were to begin internships that involved hundreds of hours of in-person research or hands-on work with mentors with whom they had been building professional relationships.

How does research continue during a shut down? You can find blogs from our students here. One of the requirements of these projects are weekly blog posts. These blog posts detail the student’s experiences, schedules, and work on the projects, as well as necessary adjustments made due to COVID-19. We often find that research doesn’t always go according to plan, and this year was one for the books in that department.

As is typical of our students, they persevered and continued putting in the work regardless of the obstacles encountered during this unprecedented time. Some projectors had more hurdles than others to overcome, but our seniors continued working, even if that meant adjusting their research plans, or perhaps having to scrap certain aspects of the project entirely.

One way that this year’s Senior Project and Senior Research Projects look quite different, is that our students all presented virtually. The students were arranged in small groups and each took a turn showing their final presentations, and then answering questions from their peers. There were ten separate sessions on varying topics, including:

  • Machine Learning
  • Environmental Design
  • Accessibility and Design
  • Tech and Society
  • Education
  • Wealth and Poverty
  • Health Policy & Science I
  • Health Policy & Science II
  • Computational Sciences and Astronomy
  • Politics of the Cold War and Secret Empires

Senior Project Samples

Student: Aitor De Ancona
Faculty Mentor: Kevyn Adams

External Mentor: Dr. Mark Dombrowski

Conceptualizing, Designing, and Building a Functional Prototype Exoskeleton for Human Legs

ABSTRACT: My project focuses on lower-limb exoskeleton for load transfers. Its design is divided into two major conceptual portions, the sensory and control modules, and the movement mechanics. The sensory and control portion are a distributed system built around Arduinos which incorporate both sets of digital and analog input/output (I/O) that are interfaced to sensors and control circuits that measure the loading based on the rotation of the ankle, knee, and hip. The sensors gather information that is used to compensate for the degrees of rotation of the ankles and knees and their loading at various points. The measured information is translated into mechanical movements in a system consisting of motors, gears, cables, etc. The exoskeleton may be used for multiple applications where additive load bearing or increase limited mobility of the lower limbs is desirable. Those application areas include medical, industrial, military, and beyond.

Student: Diane Kim
Faculty Mentor: Bryan Meyerowitz
External Mentor: Dr. Matteo Cargnello

Enhancing Heterogeneous Catalyst Stability and Efficiency via Overgrowth Encapsulation of Pt Nanoparticles in Metal Oxides

ABSTRACT: Nanoparticle-based heterogeneous catalysts have been proven to be effective in increasing the efficiency of the conversion of hydrocarbons such as propane propene, and methane into less environmentally damaging byproducts. However, the tendency of metallic nanoparticles to sinter, or agglomerate, at high temperatures and thus lose active surface area results in a decay of catalytic efficiency over time as these catalysts are used in multiple high-temperature reaction cycles. One promising method of increasing catalyst stability via sintering prevention is encapsulation, or the creation of nanostructures that fix the nanoparticles in place onto a support material so that they are unable to come into contact with one another. This experiment aims to test the efficiency and thermal stability of catalysts produced via overgrowth encapsulation, a technique in which nanoparticles are seeded between two porous metal oxide layers, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the overgrowth method when conducted with a variety of metal oxide supports, such as cobalt oxide, alumina (aluminum oxide), and nickel oxide, many of which have been infrequently utilized in existing studies on encapsulation in favor of ceria (cerium (IV) oxide). Thus, this project will provide insights on the value of overgrowth encapsulation as a means of optimizing the stability of nanoparticle-based catalysts for potential large-scale industrial use.

Student: Priti Rangnekar
Faculty Mentor: Swetha Bhattacharya
External Mentor: Dr. Agnes Kim, Assistant Professor of Physics, Penn State Scranton and Dr. Michael Dubson, Teaching Professor and Associate Chair, Physics, University of Colorado Boulder

The Asteroid Apocalypse: Understanding the Media’s Representation of the Asteroid Threat and Developing Orbit Determination and Prediction Algorithms

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this project is to analyze public perception regarding high impact asteroid threats and develop algorithms for asteroid orbit determination and prediction.

First, I conducted online surveys based on news article passages and simulations to better understand public perception and concerns regarding asteroid threats and impacts. By providing stimuli from various sources, such as NASA, SETI, mainstream media, and the government, I sought to understand the degree to which citizens consider asteroid impacts a serious threat and what style of presentation provides the most accurate representation of reality without creating unrealistic paranoia.

Second, I identified the methods of orbit determination that are the most accurate and created a machine learning algorithm that predicts changes in the future. I applied these algorithms to numerous potentially hazardous asteroids, for which I can access their orbital elements over time. This was done by accessing datasets from CU Boulder remotely, as well as publicly available data from the Minor Planet Center.

What our Senior Project Coordinator faculty say:

Mr. Christian Brady
Dean of Upper School, Grades 10 – 12 | Senor Project Coordinator

“The senior project is the crowning achievement of any BASIS Independent student’s career. It gives a student a chance to do a deep dive into a subject of interest with guidance from both an internal BASIS Independent Silicon Valley advisor, and an external advisor in the field. The subjects of the students’ projects this year range from textual analysis of Marvel movies as a way of looking at Bush-era foreign policy, to lab research into ancient Chinese herbs to fight tomorrow’s plagues, just to give you an overview of the wide range of experiences of our students. I hope that you enjoy watching them grow to fruition as much as I have.”

Mr. Bryan Meyerowitz
History Subject Expert Teacher | Master Teacher

“Our ingenuity has guided us through public health emergencies. Plato composed Socratic dialogues during the Athenian Plague; Shakespeare wrote King Lear during an outbreak of the Black Death; and Jenner popularized the idea of vaccines during a smallpox surge. Throughout history, heroic individuals have uplifted their communities in their most challenging moments by expanding the limits of the arts, letters, and sciences. We have reached such a moment in our own time; around the world, writers, artists, musicians, doctors, and other “essential” workers have helped navigate the rest of us through our crisis. The same must be said of our researchers, who are often hidden in labs and libraries, seeking to answer some of the great riddles of our time.

“BASIS Independent Silicon Valley is proud to introduce six students who have crafted some exceptional research projects in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did our AP Research students develop complex and ambitious inquiries this year, but many of them adeptly transformed their projects when labs and schools were shuttered in March. It has been my distinct honor to learn from a group of student researchers this year whose work addresses vital questions in the sciences, in education, in economics, and in popular culture.”

We are very proud of our students and join in offering congratulations to the class of 2020!

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