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"Most interesting science topic?", etc. - Summer Science Program Admissions Essay

answers: 1
Feb 22, 2012, 02:11am   #
-Multiple short answer prompts; full application available at summerscience.org. SSP is a summer program in which students work in teams to determine the orbit of an asteroid. The program is math, physics/mechanics, astronomy, and computer programming (Python) heavy. This application needs to arrive at their office by 3/1/2012.

1) What topic in science do you currently find most interesting and why? When and how did you become aware of this topic? (150 words or fewer)
I am a firm believer in a versatile science education--I don't want to align myself with a scientific niche too early in life. However, I've consistently followed many of NASA's scientific ventures with enthusiasm. Even though I am intrigued by many of NASA's high-profile projects such as the Curiosity MSL and the James Webb Telescope, I also pay very close attention to the ISS experiment series. The ISS experiment series is a collection of many small studies done in the unique microgravity environment of the ISS. My latest interest is combining extraterrestrial physics with terrestrial biology. For example, BRIC16-CYT, which studies plant germination in the absence of gravity, is one of the most intriguing studies I've read about.
I also have great interest in NASA's Gravity Probe B. After attending an online seminar featuring Jeffrey Kolodiejczak from the Marshall Space Flight Center, I have been fascinated with NASA's creation of a near-ideal environment in space to test the theory of special relativity. I even presented Gravity Probe B to my precalculus class as part of an assignment.

2) If you have studied physics and/or calculus, briefly describe the specific topics covered in your coursework and/or any related extracurricular study or projects (100 words or fewer).
Four years of science bowl have motivated me to study physics and calculus on my own. I've studied topics such as vectors, Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics/electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics to be able to answer my teammates' questions. I've learned enough calculus to be able to answer my teammates' questions, such as L'Hopital's rule and integration by parts. More recently, at the encouragement of my precalculus teacher, I enrolled in an extracurricular AP calculus BC course to strengthen my understanding of the subject. I hope SSP can help me fuse these separate spheres of understanding into a more complete education.

3) We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. This isn't a trick question. We want to see how you bring balance to your life. (150 words or fewer)
Like many other students my age, I'm very involved in music. I'm a prolific cello player, and a self-made pianist. Using composition software, I arranged Wagner's "Procession to the Cathedral" for a string quartet. I'm currently working on a set of virtuosic variations on Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" for solo cello. I've also tried to push the limits of traditional classical music through sound-processing software and other modern tools. For example, I might record a cello piece and its piano accompaniment, and combine the two recordings. Over Christmas break, I was one of two cellists from California who were invited to play for the Queen of England at the reception of the 2012 New Year's Day Parade. Most recently, I've gotten together with friends to play and record works by Apocalyptica, a cello quartet specializing in heavy-metal music.

4) Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (150 words or fewer).
My school, Mission San Jose High, has shaped many of my aspirations over the past three years. Learning in a rigorous academic environment has shattered my former academic complacency while pushing me to new heights. For example, my ambition to learn calculus on my own would not develop without encouragement from my peers and my precalculus teacher. Similarly, my precalculus teacher's work as an inventor inspired me to follow in his footsteps and try to patent one of my ideas regarding water desalinatoin. In addition, since one of my friends introduced me to NASA INSPIRE's nation-wide Online Learning Community, I was introduced to a diverse body of students and scientists who exposed me to a plethora of fields and NASA ventures. Through presentations and LiveChats with NASA scientists, my vapid goal of pursuing a STEM career solidified into an ambition to become a NASA engineer.

5) Respond to any or all of these topics with up to 500 words altogether:
>Describe a life challenge (of any nature, past or present) you have faced.
>Describe an achievement that you are personally proud of.
>Describe any science or math reading, research, projects, or competitions (individual or team) you have done outside of regular coursework.
>Why do you want to participate in SSP?

I believe science should be approached in a panoptic manner. Even highly specialized scientists and engineers should have experience with multiple different branches of science in order to see where they fit within the grand scheme of things. As a result, I try to immerse myself in as many different branches of science and math as possible through reading and other venues of enrichment. I am a regular reader of IEEE Spectrum Magazine, and I frequently center my blog posts around recent scientific developments. I am also fortunate to have highly knowledgeable teachers this year to whom I can address any science-related inquiries.
I've also tried to round out my practical knowledge. During my summer at COSMOS UC Davis, I learned and applied C programming during a biophysics class in order to model cell diffusion. I wrote an algorithm that approximated pi to an arbitrary number of digits (only to later realize it was already known as Monte Carlo approximation). I also built and programmed a robot capable of playing tic tac toe with a human. On a separate occasion, I've carried out site-directed mutagenesis assays as part of the Handel Lab at UCSD.
I want to attend SSP in order to expose myself to math, physics, and astronomy. Before I settle down in college and put work into a chemistry degree, I want to make sure chemistry is something I truly enjoy above everything else. My experiences at UC San Diego and UC Davis covered a diverse array of fields such as computer science, biochemistry, and biophysics, but I still lack experience in many fields explored at SSP.
For this reason, I believe SSP will be exceptionally beneficial for me. My sustained interest in science and my broad science experience will only accelerate my learning and enhance my experience at SSP.

Obviously, my ultimate goal with these essays is to get into the program. However, I'd also like feedback about my approach to these essays. For example, I don't mention "dimensionless" achievements such as competitions or awards; rather I mention things I am personally proud of (Pi approximation, music composition, etc.). Is this a good way to approach these sorts of essays? How much "brown-nosing", if any, is needed? Thanks a million for your feedback and time.

[I am aware of the occasional typo here and there; I'm going to conduct a final spellcheck before I send it off. However, please feel free to point out as many grammar mistakes/rephrasing options as necessary.]

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