Nevil Desai

Quest for Science Nets Awards for Desai

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Thursday October 09, 2014

Persistence and a passion for science have paved the way for remarkable accomplishments for South Burlington High School junior Nevil Desai.

For the past 2 years, Desai has been conducting research in a laboratory in the University of Vermont microbiology department, under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Wargo. Desai came to work in Wargo’s lab after having his request rejected or transferred by five other University of Vermont professors. Wargo welcomed Desai’s resolve, and provided him with the equipment and guidance necessary to proceed with his research. Desai began spending almost every day after school in the lab, fine-tuning his research on oil degradation.

The determination and enthusiasm Desai has brought to his project have proven to be rewarding in more ways than one. Desai presented his finding at the Vermont State Science and Mathematics Fair where he won a gold medal. This set off a chain reaction of jet setting around the country and the world. Desai was given an opportunity to fly to Los Angeles to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) along with two other Vermont students, Gailin Pease from Burlington High School and Abigail Millard from Windsor High School. In addition to his trip to LA, this past spring, he competed in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) and solely represented the state of Vermont while presenting his project in Washington D.C. with some of the top high school scientists with projects related to water. Immediately after SJWP, Desai traveled to the Genius Olympiad in SUNY Oswego and won a silver medal out of 700 participants in 4 major categories. His award was in the environmental quality category for a project titled “Bioremediation: Using Strains of Pseudomonas on Oil Spills”.

How did this all come to be? Desai’s love for science began early. Inspired by his older sister’s involvement and passion for the field, he decided to participate in his first science fair in sixth grade. He began by testing the effects of oil on different plants. He first competed at the state level at the Vermont State Science and Mathematics Fair.

Then, as he got older, he became eligible to compete in larger fairs. In 8th grade he was a Broadcom Masters finalist (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering Rising Stars), which is the premier middle school science and engineering fair competition. Affiliated science fairs around the country nominate the top 10 percent of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students to enter this prestigious competition. Three hundred semifinalists are selected after they submit an online application, of which only 30 finalists are brought to Washington, DC. Finalists present their research projects and compete in team hands-on STEM challenges to demonstrate their skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.

Desai credits his 10th grade biology teacher, Curtis Belton for his support and encouragement.“He has been my sponsor since 6th grade. He has really helped guide me and edited papers to be submitted. He helped me tremendously. I couldn’t have gone as far as I did without his help,” Desai said. But Desai is modest. According to Belton, Desai has been largely responsible for his own successes. Belton said that he provided Desai with the information he gives to all of his students who develop projects for Accelerated Biology at the high school.
“It is remarkable that Nevil, as a sixth grader, took the ball and ran with a project of his own design. I made some suggestions, pointed out places where his research might be strengthened, but Nevil has gone out and found his own mentors and sources for materials. Because of his persistence and insights, I have had the opportunity to accompany him to several wonderful national and international science fairs.” Belton added.

Although Desai is only a junior at SBHS, he’s already thinking of his future beyond high school. “I would like to go into a profession where I will always be a student (i.e. constantly learning all the way to the top) and one where I will never be bored. This could mean I go into the medical field and continue research or go into business. Who knows! I want to keep all my doors open until it comes down to deciding, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

When Desai isn’t working in the laboratory, he can be found playing basketball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, and spending time with friends. He also participates in multiple co-curricular activities such as DECA and the Coalition for Community Service, among others.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent