A student at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at UNT won the national Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for his work engineering a polymer coating that could help prevent common — and sometimes deadly — bacterial infections resulting from prolonged use of invasive medical devices in hospitals.
Wen Chyan, 17, of Denton, will receive a $100,000 scholarship from Siemens, the country's premier high school competition for math, science and technology research.
For his research, Chyan, who is in his second year at TAMS, created a polymer with imbedded silver ions that prevents and kills bacteria. Such infections, called nosocomial infections, affect more than 2 million hospital patients annually and kill about 100,000.
Chyan's polymer is adhesive and can be used on catheters, breathing tubes and other medical devices that have contact with patients. The bulk of the work is complete, and Chyan hopes to begin field testing the coating soon. His mentor on the project is Richard Timmons, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"I have relatives who have dealt with hospital infections, so I knew this project would have very direct, real-world applications," Chyan says.
The national finals were judged by a panel of nationally renowned scientists and mathematicians headed by lead judge Joseph Taylor, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Eighteen national finalists competed in this year's national finals, including six individuals and six teams. The finalists previously competed at one of six regional competitions held at leading research universities throughout November.
"These remarkable students have achieved the most coveted and competitive high school science recognition in the nation," says Thomas McCausland, chairman of the Siemens Foundation. "There is no doubt that these scholars will change the world, starting right now, with their passion for math and science."
Chyan plans to major in chemistry or chemical engineering after graduating from TAMS and would like to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said he would like to pursue a career at a research university where he can continue conducting research while teaching.
Chyan said he owes thanks to his parents, who are both scientists, for spurring his interest in science at an early age. He was home schooled by his mother, Jin-Jian, before arriving at TAMS, and his father, Oliver, is a chemistry professor at UNT.
"Both of my parents were scientists, and I caught their passion for the subject," he says. "They were instrumental in my interest in chemistry."
TAMS is a two-year residential program at UNT that allows talented students to complete their freshman and sophomore years of college while also receiving their high school diplomas. Students enroll in the academy following their sophomore year in high school, live in a UNT residence hall and attend UNT classes with college students. After two years, they enroll at UNT or another university to complete their education.
"Wen is an amazing young person with an incredible work ethic," says Richard Sinclair, dean of TAMS. "He seems to have the knowledge and ability of someone with a Ph.D. in chemistry."
In addition to Chyan, TAMS had one other regional finalist and 14 regional semifinalists honored in the Siemens competition.
Sarah Bahari with UNT News Service
can be reached at Sarah.Bahari@unt.edu.