Two Yorktown High School Students Win Acorda Science Award

Emily Huang with her mentor
Liam Cushen

YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Two science research students at Yorktown High School have been recognized for their innovative projects.

Seniors Liam Cushen and Emily Huang were awarded the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award, which was created to encourage students to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Winners receive a plaque in recognition of their outstanding research, and their school receives an award for display.

Cushen used algorithms to forecast the availability of solar power. The algorithms looked at photographs of the sky, taken at 30-second intervals. Able to detect clouds, and the movement and therefore speed of the clouds, enabled the algorithms to determine whether they would interfere with the sun’s radiation reaching a solar panel. Cushen’s work was motivated by climate change, and was aimed at improving the efficiency of solar power.

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“I got involved with my project because I wanted to combine my passion for the environment and renewable energies with computer science,” Cushen said. “After reading a lot of journal articles on solar energy and ‘solar forecasting,’ I realized that one of the leading experts in the area worked very close to where I live. After I reached out to him, he began helping me immediately, and we began crafting my current project.”

In the fall, Cushen will attend Cornell University, where he will study business and computer science.

Huang’s project looked at different materials that would change color when placed under physical stress. Each year, many bridges collapse, half due to a structural deficiency, according to studies. While there are many ways to detect strain, Huang’s materials have a more sensitive color change, are inexpensive and have simple production methods.

“I chose this project because I really wanted to do something in engineering,” Huang said. “I think engineering projects really foster a sense of creativity and ingenuity that I thought were valuable skills in the future. I was also very interested in this color changing mechanism, and I thought that it would have a lot of applications in the real world—not only to act as a strain sensor, but also perhaps in smaller materials like rubber bands or toys.”

In college, Huang hopes to study something engineering-related, possibly within the field of materials science. She would also like to explore other fields.

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