Freshman becomes youngest to qualify for science fair

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On April 6, freshman Kamna Gupta became the youngest student in Indiana to qualify for the National level of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix from May 12 to 17.

science rules: Freshman Kamna Gupta stands with other participants. Gupta qualified for the National level of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. KAMNA GUPTA / SUBMITTED PHOTO
science rules: Freshman Kamna Gupta stands with other participants. Gupta qualified for the National level of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. KAMNA GUPTA / SUBMITTED PHOTO

“I feel really excited and nervous and just amazed…This opportunity doesn’t come to very many freshmen at all,” Gupta said.

For her project, Gupta researched limb regeneration in axolotls, a type of salamander native to Mexico. “This (project) would help us implement this kind of research in mammals or even humans to try to regenerate gaps in tissues or even appendages,” she said.

To prepare for the State level, Gupta spent six to eight hours in the laboratory every weekday over the summer with the help of her mentor David Stocum, former dean of IUPUI, at the IUPUI Department of Biology.

“I think the main thing that separates me from some of the kids (at the State competition) was my interest for the project because I love what I do at the lab. I enjoy learning about regeneration,” Gupta said. “If you show a judge that you really care about your topic and know it inside and out, then you’ll probably progress further.”

According to Gupta, upperclassmen competitors can be intimidating. She said juniors and seniors had the advantage of researching their projects for as many as three years, and that some friends told her she was too young to embark on such a large project when she first began researching.

“They told me, ‘You should probably start off just observing.’ . . . (but) Dr. Stocum apparently saw potential in me, so he took me on as a student,” Gupta said.

Gupta said she was able to progress in the competition as far as she did because of support from her mentor, parents and teachers, including biology teacher Brandy Yost, who supported Gupta and reviewed her papers.

“I’m really thankful to be a Carmel kid, because you don’t usually get teachers like Mrs. Yost to do that for you,” she said.

As for the National competition, Gupta said she was both excited and nervous.

“I’m excited to go to Phoenix and meet (the world’s smartest people from other places),” she said, “(but) my judge will most likely be the person who discovered my methods, (so) I’ll have to know everything about my topic.”

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