WESTFIELD – Westfield High School senior Suvin Sundararajan is one of two students statewide invited to present his award-winning science project to Gov. Charles Baker and the president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the Governor’s STEM Week kickoff on Oct. 19.
Sundararajan earned a first place award at last year’s Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair (MSEF) for his project, “Functionalized Polylactide Filament for Additive Manufacturing,” and received the second highest score in the state. He also received a special award from MathWorks for the project, which created biodegradable filaments specifically for use in 3D printers.
Sundararajan is also the first student from Westfield to be invited to participate in the 2020/21 Regeneron Science Talent Search, in which 1,800 seniors from around the country accept the challenge of conducting independent science, math or engineering research. The competition recognizes the work of 300 student scholars and their schools each year and invites 40 student finalists to Washington, D.C. to participate in final judging, display their work to the public, and meet with notable scientists and government leaders.
“I was pretty surprised. Funny story, I didn’t realize the governor was going to be there,” Sundararajan said about the invitation to speak at the Mass STEM Week kickoff. He said the governor, MIT president and others will be speaking at 10 a.m. and the student presentations will begin at 11 a.m. Sundararajan is going second, starting at about 11:30, when he will present for five or 10 minutes, and then take questions on Baker’s behalf and from some professors at MIT.
“I’m really excited to represent Westfield at that level,” he said, adding on Wednesday that he had been practicing for the live presentation. Anyone interested may watch the live stream on the MIT Mass Stem Week Kickoff page at calendar.mit.edu/event/MA_STEM_week#.X4g5Oi9h1QJ.
“Quite simply, he is the most exceptionally research minded student I have encountered in my 20 years of teaching,” said WHS Physics teacher Renee Sweeney about Sundararajan. “It’s his attention to detail. He’s so willing to take the time to take enough data to make sure the results are statistically significant. Even last year, he was going up to UMass several days a week to work in the lab there.
“He’s such a humble kid, too,” Sweeney added.
Sweeney agreed that Sundararajan’s achievements reflect well on the sciences at WHS, highlighted in the annual WHS Science & Engineering Fair, one of the few high school level fairs remaining in Western Mass.
“It sets Westfield High School apart from many of the other schools that have given up on science fairs and long-range science projects. We get great community support. I truly believe that our science fair is one of the best things in the school; the community comes in as judges, and parents coming in to support their kids through the whole process,” Sweeney said.
“It’s been almost 20 years of the science fair for me. Every year, there is something totally unique. You would think after so many years you’ve seen it all. When you give them the wings, they fly, and explore their own interests,” she added.
This year, due to the pandemic the science fair will be virtual, with students making videos of their presentations. Sweeney said since a lot of the projects will not be able to be completed without supervision, the MSEF is opening a research proposal category, which will consider all the research that students have done without necessarily carrying out the experiment.
“They have to do a full literature review before the project. We’ve tried to emphasize the originality of the project, (and have students) show their research back to hypotheses as part of the process we go through,” Sweeney said.
Sundararajan plans to carry on with his science fair project in some fashion this year, although he said he may focus more on the 3D printing part of it. “I’ve been working a little bit more on that. I think it will classify as a continuation,” he said, reluctant to get into any details. “I’m going to blow away everybody’s minds,” he added.
Sundararajan said he wanted to acknowledge everyone who has helped him on his projects, especially those at UMass Amherst, who have given him access and assistance in the laboratories.
“The three mentors from UMass Polymer Science I specifically want to thank for the science fair project are Professor Todd Emrick, Elizabeth Stubbs (grad student), and Chris Cuento (grad student). The (WHS) science teachers, especially Mr. Tyler and Mrs. Sweeney also guided me as well! They were part of the reason. Science isn’t done alone,” Sundararajan said.
“Suvin is truly a remarkable young man. His dedication to his project speaks volumes about his work ethic, intelligence and commitment. He has always performed well at our science fairs but the amount of effort that he put into this project is extraordinary. Needless to say, we are so proud of him, not only for his amazing work but also for the character and integrity that he demonstrates as a person. He is so deserving of recognition and represents our school and community extremely well,” said WHS Principal Charles Jendrysik.