ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Media release from Albemarle County Public Schools:

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Students in Albemarle High School's Math, Engineering & Science Academy (MESA) earned both Best in Show Awards at the 34th annual Piedmont Regional Science Fair, held at the John Paul Jones Arena this month. Students from MESA also received the two runner-up Best in Show awards.

Overall, Albemarle County Public Schools students won first-place awards in 11 of the 15 science fair categories and received 30 of the 38 first, second or third place awards. The division's students also received 31 of the 45 Special Awards sponsored by local businesses and organizations in the senior or high school category.

The two Grand Award winners, Monika Grabowska and the team of Seth Liyanage and Ishpreet Singh, automatically qualified for the international science fair, sponsored by Intel and being held this year from May 10-15 in Pittsburgh.

Monica's research focused on the use of antioxidants as a molecular strategy to supplant the need for injections in the prevention and treatment of heart attacks. Seth and Ishpreet studied how to use electrolysis to develop the capability for swimmers and divers to stay underwater for prolonged period of time without the need for cumbersome breathing tanks.

Will Knopse and Selena Feng were the two runners-up. Will proposed using the “game theory” behavioral strategy commonly employed by businesses to track and respond to the incidence and spread of infectious diseases. Selena researched the use of a tiny camera as a non-contact method for monitoring heart rhythms. Her device would serve as an alternative to the often-used electrocardiogram.

“These projects are classic examples of the value of the science fair,” said Jeff Prillaman, MESA's director. “We challenge our students to develop their own ideas as solutions or preferred alternatives to real-world needs,” Prillaman said. “You can easily see practical applications for these projects, uses that would improve upon current technologies or strategies,” he added.

The research, planning, discipline, design, testing and collaboration that make a science fair project a winner, Prillaman said, are exactly the skills a student needs over a lifetime to ensure success in any career path. “I really believe this is our purpose in education—it's not about choosing the right answer on a multiple choice test, but about student-driven discovery, the excitement and enthusiasm you see whenever students are creating knowledge,” he said.

First-place winners in the high school category from Albemarle High School included Monica Graboswka in biochemistry; Doyeop Kim in chemistry; Tyler Cosgrove in computer science; Selena Feng in materials and bioengineering; Seth Liyanage and Ishpreet Singh in electrical and mechanical engineering; David Calhoun and Danny Smyth in Energy & Transportation; Will Knospe in mathematical sciences; Rahim Zaman in medicine & health sciences; David Hatter and Brendan Ventura in physics & astronomy; and Graham Haynie in plant sciences.

Lillian Xu from Western Albemarle High School won first place in cellular & molecular biology.

“To appreciate the impact of the science fair,” said Western Albemarle's Carol Stutzman, “two of our 2014 winners independently told me that in their college admission interviews, the majority of their discussion was about their science project. It's understandable that some of the best universities in the nation would place a high premium on a student's ability to complete and utilize independent research in a compelling way,” she added.

Three local students also won awards in the middle school competition. Aditi and Gauri Prakash from Henley Middle School were first in microbiology; Mriganka Mandal from Sutherland Middle School had the best science project in cellular & molecular biology; and Evangeline Sackett from Burley Middle School was second in environmental sciences.

With the exception of the two Best in Show winners, all other high school science fair participants will compete in the state competition, which will be held March 27-28 in Lexington. Winners in the state competition will move on to the international fair in May.

“In addition to the fantastic work that every one of our students presented, I would especially like to thank Battelle, which has been a strong and consistent supporter of the regional science fair as a gold sponsor, and Booz Allen Hamilton, which this year was a silver sponsor,” Prillaman said. “The valued support of these partners opens up truly inspirational doors of opportunity for middle and high school students throughout Central Virginia,” he added.