NEW YORK, NY — Steven Rosenstark, a 2019 graduate of Livingston High School, returned from last week’s Spellman High Voltage Electronics (SHVE) Clean Tech Competition with a third-place win in his category after being selected from more than 500 entries among nearly 1,200 registrants spanning 40 countries to vie for $60,000 in monetary prizes in the prestigious contest.
At New York City’s Cooper Union, the competing teams presented project solutions that went along with this year's theme, “Toward a Greener Tomorrow." Projects addressed environmental and climate change issues as part of the world’s only outcome-based, STEM-focused research and design challenge that inspires pre-college youth to pursue STEM studies and careers.
Team SRosenstark2019’s project—which was entitled “Multifunctional Reactive Electrochemical Membrane (REM) Filtration of Industrial Dye” and was submitted in the competition’s “Resource Preservation” category—earned Rosenstark a $5,000 cash prize for his innovative solutions to environmental challenges and climate change.
“When I heard my name announced as third place for my category, I was surprised to say the least,” said Rosenstark. “Having seen the strong group of competitors that I was up against, knowing how great the groups that have won in previous years were, and knowing that my friends and family were watching the awards ceremony livestream from home made it a real memorable moment…
“The Clean Tech Competition organizers did a fantastic job this year of selecting 20 unique, outstanding projects to include as finalists; and for that reason I highly recommend that everyone reading this head over to its website to read more about all the top finishers, at the very least. The competition day was super busy and I wish I had had time to hear each of their full presentations, but what I did hear blew me away.”
Rosenstark, who turned 18 a few days prior to the competition, spoke highly of New York-based nonprofit Center for Science, Teaching & Learning (CSTL), which hosts the competition each year, and the SHVE Corporation, the event sponsor and a leader in high voltage technology in the medical, industrial and scientific fields.
He stated that promoting STEM and driving aspiring scientists to push their own limits is “something that the world needs more of moving forward.” Rosenstark added that he hopes to see competitions like this one grow in the future and encourages other young students interested in STEM to take advantage of these opportunities.
Speaking from his own experience, Rosenstark recalls that his interest in STEM traces back to preschool and elementary school, when he was reading books about outer space, rocks, gems and minerals “a little more intently than most kids.”
“Throughout middle school and high school, I continued to foster my interests, participating in science-focused summer camps and eventually joining my high school's three-year Science Research Program,” he said. “That basically takes us to where I am today. Throughout my time in the program, I investigated lots of different disciplines, including material science, bacteria detection and identification and eventually water purification.
“Examining applications of electricity is something that has stayed consistent throughout for the most part. It acts in such bizarre ways but can be so powerful that it seems to have a place in the future of every facet of scientific study.”
As a part of Livingston’s Science Research Program, students need to enter at least three research competitions with a project that they design themselves. Rosenstark said he discovered the Clean Tech Competition when he was nearing completion of the experimental parts of his study.
He added that a competition with a category titled "resource preservation" seemed “perfect for a study about novel water purification technologies.”
“The application process was really straight forward, which is one of the reasons I think it has garnered such a large body of teams entering every year,” he said. “Most competitions come with pages and pages of repetitive paperwork that never gets used for anything, but the Clean Tech Competition did a really great job of making entering as accessible as possible. I filled out a few simple forms, submitted my paper for the preliminary rounds, and continued to fill out the more in-depth paperwork as I progressed through to the semi-finalist and finalist rounds.”
Rosenstark’s project focused on the use of electricity for the purification of water on a more cost-effective and applicable scale than has been seen recently. He believes that his attention to experimentation, data collection, analysis and presentation—something he said his Livingston High School teachers helped prepare him for—is what made him stand out at the competition.
“I think some of the electrochemical theory behind my design and the fact that I brought in a functioning prototype also really helped my placement in the competition,” he said.
Not only was Livingston’s “Team SRosenstark2019” one of only four New Jersey teams selected to compete alongside teams from California, Colorado, Massachusetts and New York as well as teams from abroad in China, Singapore, the Philippines, Zimbabwe and Italy, but Rosenstark’s team was also one of only a handful of competing teams with only one member.
In the end, Rosenstark felt this worked in his favor, as four of the six podium finishers across the two categories also worked on their own, he said.
“In my opinion, working on your own makes it easier to control every aspect of the project and harder to let your standards drop,” he said. “Every group project I've ever worked on falls short somehow, largely because it's so easy to just slack off and blame the other group member(s). Because my project was my own, if it were to fall anywhere below my standards it would be my own personal failure, so I was driven to avoid this as much as possible.
“Additionally, because I wrote every word of my paper and spoke every word of my presentation, there was never any sort of disconnect or misunderstanding; everything was very cohesive, which is hard to achieve with a group.”
Making his accomplishment even more special is that Rosenstark’s father, Michael, served as his team leader. Stating that his father did more than “just fill out the parent paperwork,” Rosenstark said his father was his biggest supporter throughout the competition,constantly helping to proofread and critique his writing to make it “the best it could be."
“Working with family can always be a little bit tricky, but it definitely helped with my ability to work on my project straight through the night and still have someone there to make sure what I wrote was up to par,” said Rosenstark. “He was also a huge help in staying on top of everything as the competition grew closer (staying motivated, helping get my tri-fold posters printed, etc.).”
Rosenstark also worked under the supervision of Dr. Wen Zhang at the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The teen has been working in Zhang’s lab for more than a year, helping out with various other projects and “getting a feel for what the research process was really like.”
“When it finally came to pursuing my own project, [Dr. Zhang] was a great resource—graciously allowing me to use the lab's equipment and facilities, providing critical feedback on my project and writing, and helping guide me away from some of my misconceptions,” said Rosenstark.
Upon his return from the New York competition, Rosenstark thanked Zhang, the staff at NJIT's Civil and Environmental Department and graduate students Likun Hua and Han Cao for their assistance; Kevin Sanders of CSTL and all of the Clean Tech Competition organizers “for hosting such a wonderful competition”; and his friends and parents for “supporting [him] every step of the way."
Rosenstark also extended gratitude to Livingston High School science research teachers Dr. Starace, Mr. Weis, Dr. Kuziola, Ms. Kaspriskie and Dr. Walsh for “preparing [him] so well to pursue independent research.”
According to Dr. Ray Ann Havasy, an international STEM education crusader of CSTL, young people and parents “need to know that STEM is interesting, rewarding and cool.”
In its eighth year, the international Clean Tech competition is the only outcome-based STEM focused research and design challenge for pre-college youth to inspire them to pursue STEM studies and careers.
Havasy noted that the competition encourages young people to think creatively to find solutions to climate change and other environmental challenges using clean energy. Some of the other projects included the innovative use of hydrogen fuel cells, algae decomposer, vertical farming, low-cost innovative water filtration and more.
The final round of competition was comprised of more than 50 students from 20 international teams that displayed their projects offering solutions to specific issues relating to climate change or protecting resources using clean technology.
“It is critical that we encourage young people to work on and develop technology that will enhance the lives of people around the world,” said Dr. Loren Skeist, president of SHVE. “We are committed to this effort and making Spellman High Voltage’s sponsorship in this competition an integral part of our corporate mission.
"It is inspiring to meet these high school students from all around the world and see what they have developed to make a difference. It is these youths who will be the ones to find the solutions to energy challenges and climate challenges.”
The additional student team winners who won first-through third-place in each of the competition’s two categories—“Resource Preservation” and “Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change”—were as follows:
In the “Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change” category, first-place with a $10,000 prize was awarded to Kevin Yang from Fairview High School, Boulder, Colorado, whose project focused on development of an advanced film to promote photosynthetic activity and crop production. Under the Resource Preservation category, Ishita Bhimavarapu from West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, Plainsboro, New Jersey won first-place with a $10,000 prize for her project, which focused on rain water harvesting.
The second-place finishers in the Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change category were Tzipora Schein and Bhawan Sandhu from Lawrence High School, Cedarhurst, New York, who received $7,000 for their project relating to cost effective hydrogen fuel cells. The second-place winner in the Resource Preservation category was Gabriel Matemba from the Prince Edward School, Harare, Harare, Zimbabwe, who received $7,000 for his project relating to a new electric-aquaponics system.
Kristie Eliana Ramli, Natasha Chin Hui Shan and Joanne Chua from National Junior College, Singapore, Singapore were given the third-place award with $5,000 prize in the Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change category for their project, “Cheap Water Filter Using Three Agricultural and Food Waste Materials to Remove Heavy Metals from Polluted Waters.”
FULL GROUP PHOTO CAPTION (L-R):
Kevin Sanders of CSTL; “Resource Preservation” category winners Steven Rosenstark of Livingston, NJ (third place winner), Gabriel Matemba from Prince Edward School of Harare, Zimbabwe, (second-place winner) and Ishita Bhimavarapu from West Windsor Plainsboro High School North of Plainsboro, NJ (first-place winner); “Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change” category winners Kristie Eliana Ramli, Natasha Chin Hui Shan and Joanne Chua from National Junior College of Singapore, Singapore (third-place winner); Bhawan Sandhu from Lawrence High School of Cedarhurst, NY (second-place winner); and Kevin Yang from Fairview High School of Boulder, CO (first-place winner); and Dr. Loren Skeist, President of Spellman High Voltage Electronics.