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Tyler Burden and Christian Spadini Named Scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021

Harrison High School Students Named Among Top 300 Student Scientists in the Nation

Society for Science (the Society) announced that Tyler Burden and Christian Spadini, students at Harrison High School, were among the top 300 scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars were selected from 1,760 applications received from 611 high schools across 45 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and 10 countries. Scholars were chosen based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists, and hail from 198 American and international high schools in 37 states, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, and Singapore.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search provides students with a national stage to present original research and celebrates the hard work and discoveries of young scientists who are bringing a fresh perspective to significant global challenges. This year, research projects cover topics from bioinformatics to public health and energy efficiency.

Faculty advisors, Allison Blunt and Randy Gunnell shared, “We are so proud of Tyler and Christian as well as our other six students who entered the Regeneron STS competition.  It is gratifying to see the results of three years of hard work for these students.” They also credited the faculty and administrators at Harrison High School for supporting the students’ efforts.

Tyler Burden’s research is entitled, Evaluating the Effects of Dance Improvisation on Brain Activity Using a Battery of Cognitive Tests. Tyler is a competitive dancer on the national level, who trains at a local dance studio.  She plays an active role in the dance program at school, serving as President of the HHS Dance Ensemble.  Engaging in the practice of improvisation through her dance training led Tyler to become curious about happens in the brain during creative processes, which deepened her interest in neuroscience.  Through her research, Tyler was able to combine her passion for dance and neuroscience. Using a battery of cognitive tests, she studied how the practice of improvisation in dance affects brain activity.  In the Fall, Tyler will attend Duke University, where she intends to pursue a double major in neuroscience and dance. 

Christian Spadini conducted a research study entitled, Political Geographical Bias in Congressional House Elections: A Quantitative Analysis of the Real Gap Between the Popular Vote and Electoral Outcomes. Through internships in state and local government, Christian was exposed to unfair practices in the political system and dedicated his research to finding a solution to an urgent issue: districting, and its consequences on voter turnout. He capitalized on his coding skills to build a mathematical model to look at population distribution through a systematic lens. He credits his ability to shift perspectives to view common problems in an uncommon way as the reason behind his success.

Abstracts of their research projects appear below. 

The full list of scholars can be viewed here: https://www.societyforscience.org/regeneron-sts/2021-scholars/

Tyler Burden 

Research Title: Evaluating the Effects of Dance Improvisation on Brain Activity Using a Battery of Cognitive Tests

ABSTRACT: Traditionally, improvisation has been utilized as a tool to facilitate creative development in performing artists of all kinds.  Considered a complex, creative activity, musical improvisation can be defined as the spontaneous selection and execution of actions that are relevant to a musical context (Landau, Limb, 2017).  Musical improvisation in the form of dance holds the same definition, but with movement of the body, specifically, as the action which is spontaneously selected and executed.  Though studies have utilized fMRI techniques to measure the brain activity associated with musical improvisation in jazz musicians (Donnay, et al., 2012), there are limitations to the use of fMRI with the process of dance improvisation due to movement restriction and other factors.  This study utilizes an alternative method, cognitive tests, to measure changes in cognition in a group of children and teenagers before and after improvisation activities and provide insight into the areas of the brain activated during the process.  Paired t-tests were used to determine if there were significant differences between pre and posttest scores for each activity.  The hypothesis was partially supported, as the results showed that scores on a divergent thinking test were significantly higher after participation in a dance improvisation activity, as well as a verbal, non-physical improvisation activity (p < 0.05).  The results indicate further study of activation of the medial prefrontal cortex during improvisation activities is warranted, and support the implementation of improvisation activities into primary and secondary education systems as well as for therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. 

Christian Spadini 

Research Title: Political Geographical Bias in Congressional House Elections: A Quantitative Analysis of the Real Gap Between the Popular Vote and Electoral Outcomes

ABSTRACT: Elections for the U.S. House of Representatives are meant to reflect the will of the people directly, but House party composition often deviates materially from the national popular vote. It is known that Democrats tend to win their districts, which are primarily in more ideologically uniform urban areas, by larger margins than Republicans do. But the quantitative impact of this bias is not fully understood, partly because controlling for asymmetrical distribution of political bias requires understanding its effects on voter turnout. This study creates a voter turnout model based on a multivariate regression analysis of the demographic, social, and economic drivers of 2018 House election turnout by Congressional district. This model estimates that, in 2018, skewed distribution of political bias depressed the popular vote by 6 million votes, or 5.6%. Surprisingly, these votes are distributed evenly across the parties given that Republican turnout is particularly depressed in the 10% percent of House elections in urban districts where they chose not to run a candidate. Nonetheless, taking this adjusted popular vote and simulating House electoral outcomes with normally distributed political bias across districts shows a large swing in favor of the Democrats. If the average 2018 House Democrat win share (9%) and the standard deviation of win shares (19%) are held constant, Democrats gain an average of 57 seats across twenty-five simulations for an increase of 13%. Since Democrats’ largest seat deficit since 1996 was 6%, these results imply that this structural bias has had a decisive impact on electoral outcomes.

 

 

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