Students make advancements in AI, genetics to win Mercer Science & Engineering Fair

The grand prize winner of the Mercer Science & Engineering Fair is Satvik Dasariaju from the Lawrenceville School, who used machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect rare variant genetic irregularities associated with a wide range of diseases and disorders, including rejection of transplanted organs.

Satvik receives a $400 award from the competition, which was conducted virtually online for the second year, according to information provided by Jonathan Allen, Ph.D., secretary, Mercer Science & Engineering Club.

Previously, such analysis took enormous effort by trained experts to sort through the billions of “letters” in the human genetic code for each of the numerous patients under investigation. Satvik, however, created an algorithm which he named RARE (Relevant Association of Rare-Variant-Bin Evolver) which improves this process, thus making such analysis accessible for widespread medical applications, according to the statement.

Upon completing his research, Satvik submitted a paper which was published in the “Proceedings of the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference” in Lyle France, 2021. He has also applied for a patent.

The first runner up, who receives a $200 award, is Charlotte Michlauk from Hopewell Valley Central High School, who followed up on the project that won her the grand prize in the 2021 fair. There she had had demonstrated how a Flettner rotating cylinder vortex scrubber could both reduce soot emissions from marine engines and also interact with wind to improve propulsion efficiency, according to the statement.

This year, she showed how the rotor could also provide gyro-stabilization to improve a ship’s stability (seakeeping) in rough waters. Combining these applications can reduce a ship’s fuel consumption, soot emissions, and carbon footprint both by aiding propulsion and by allowing it to sail more direct routes in spite of rough seas, according to the statement.

Both Satvik and Charlotee will compete virtually in the International Science and Engineering Fair in May.

Second runner up was a tie: Kevin Murphy from the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science designed and built a system which uses focused solar energy to drive a multi-stage distillation system to desalinate sea water; and Richard Zhu from The Peddie School in Hightstown used online data to conduct a genetic analysis of the bacterium Acinetobacter pittii to determine how it has evolved its virulence and resistance to antibiotics, especially by the incorporation of prophages—essentially viruses that enter bacteria and enhance their infectiousness. “Phage Application Therapy and Research” has accepted Richard’s paper for publication.

In the Junior Division (grades 6-8) the three top winners were:

• Bryan Zhou: Chapin School – The Effect of Counterweight on Trebuchet Launch Distance • Jillian Yao: Saint Ann School – Can Ferromagnetic Nanoparticles Help Clean Ocean Oil Spills? The Effect of Ferrofluid and Magnetic Strength on Efficiency of Separating Oil from Water

• Skylar Hewitt: Saint Ann School – The Effect of the Electrical Load on the Temperature of the Solar Panel

The complete list of awards may be found at

For over 70 years the Mercer Science & Engineering Club has been hosting an annual science fair for students in grades 4-12 in Mercer County. The club is 100% run 100% by volunteers, and is a IRS designated 501c3 non-profit, according to the statement. Winners from the MSEF go on to compete at international competitions Regeneron ISEF and Broadcom Masters.


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