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Potomac Stories

Fire It Up!

On Friday, US Art faculty and students conducted an outdoor "raku" firing of original ceramic work. Ceramics teacher Ms. Enck prepared her students by providing raku clay and glazes, and by explaining the benefits and uncertainties of this Japanese-inspired reduction-firing technique. Students then created and glazed wheel-thrown and hand-built pottery and sculptures in preparation for the firing day.

Teams of ceramics students used tongs to remove their red-hot ceramic pieces from the outdoor kilns, put them in the reduction containers (steel buckets filled with flammable wood chips.) After cooling and quenching the pieces, the students were amazed to see their pieces transformed.  

In the raku method, both clay and glazes darken with carbon, and copper-based glazes develop beautiful, unpredictable color patterns. This year, our raku firing was managed by Ray Bogle, an expert potter from the local workshop District Clay. Ray kept everybody safe and well-occupied and helped explain exactly what was happening in each step of the firing. 

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Students Present on Climate Change

This week, students in Science, Technology, and Society class presented their research on a problem related to Climate Change. The students focused primarily on renewable energy, investigating solar power (Paige Ramsey ‘24), geothermal energy (Kiki Bell ‘24), Wind Power (Jack Graham ‘24), and hydrogen cells (David Boehm ‘24). Jack Judd ‘24 analyzed the alteration of ice sheets that results in the formation of a water layer under the ice that accelerates the sliding of the ice into the ocean. All students offered insights on the problems investigated and presented experimental data to support potential solutions. The poster walkthrough was attended by their peers and members of the Upper School Admin Team. 

US Debate

US Debate formally recognized its 12 Academic All-Americans at a special luncheon hosted by Mr. Kowalik and Mr. McLane last week.  The 12 students honored by the National Speech and Debate Association represent a new single-year record for the program.  Seniors honored were Adrian Atwater, Taylor Burris, Graeme Evans, Z Forster, and Abigail Woldgebriel.  Junior honorees included Alexander Bauer, Sebastian Gardner, Annahita Kaashyap, Kasim Khapra, Ethan Maher, Sonali Sachdeva, and Meredith Vorndran. 

SERC Student News

Kate Choi ’25 competed in the 69th annual Fairfax County Regional Science and Engineering Fair last Sunday, winning a special award from the Biophysical Society for her research “Improving Racial Equity in Skin Cancer Detection via Artificial Intelligence.” She was also selected as the grand prize winner for her category, which helped her advance to compete in the 2024 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in May in Los Angeles. At the local fair, over 400 students presented their research projects in a wide variety of science and engineering fields. Projects were judged by over 150 professionals and 40 professional organizations and businesses. !

Congrats to Arav Bhargava on competing in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) 2024 a few weeks ago. In its 83rd year, the competition has consistently identified young innovators who will become tomorrow’s STEM leaders. Arav and the other 39 finalists were honored during an award ceremony emceed by American broadcaster Soledad O’Brien. Congratulations to both students. 

JSHS Regional Finalists Named

Students from Potomac’s Science and Engineering Research Center (SERC) program have been selected as regional finalists for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). The students began their projects during their sophomore or junior years and worked on them throughout the summer of 2023. 

Ben Runde’s ‘24 now published research focuses on using AI for early Alzheimer’s detection. Read the piece in the journal MDPI Brain Sciences. Arav Bhargava ‘24 developed a universal socket for prosthetic limbs that can be produced using a 3D printer, potentially reducing the cost significantly. He will present his research during this week’s Regeneron competition. Max Zeldes ‘24 explored making improvements to electroencephalography-based imagined speech brain-computer interfaces. Kate Choi ‘25 investigated ways to improve racial equity in skin cancer detection and presented her findings during regionals. Natalia Vilela ‘24 is researching a drug typically used for cancer treatment to assess its ability to prevent allergy-related anaphylaxis. Her work, also recently published, is available to read in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. She presented her research to allergists from all over the world during the 2024 American Association of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting. Congratulations to our SERC students; we are very proud of their accomplishments!

Taylor Burris '24 continued her run of success, finishing fourth at the Harvard National High School Invitational Forensics Tournament in extemp, was runner-up at Metro Extemp Finals, and added the Metro championship in impromptu to her list of accomplishments. Placing at Harvard is difficult as nearly 5,000 students from 462 U.S. and international high schools traveled to this year's tournament.

Sebastian Gardner '25 semi-finaled at Harvard in congressional debate, matching our highest finish at the Harvard debates in five years. Gardner and Armaan Sethi '26 both won leadership awards at Harvard.  Ethan Maher '25 was invited to the prestigious Harvard Congressional round-robin tournament the day before the main event. Alexander Bauer '25 joined Sethi and Maher with a quarter-final finish. Graeme Evans '24 also advanced to the quarter-finals for Potomac in humorous interpretation at Harvard.

The speech students only had a few days to recover from Harvard as they faced the challenges at the WACFL Speech Metro Finals this past Saturday, winning team sweeps for the metro schools in Northern Virginia.  

Burris' Metro title in impromptu speaking led the speech effort. Isabella Chumpitaz '24 was the runner-up in oral interpretation. Charlotte Ross '26, Meredith Vorndran '25, Burris, and eighth grader Anika Agrawal qualified for two events for the NCFL tournament. Finally, congratulations to Thomas Shanmugam '26 and William Shanmugam '27 on their wins at the DCUDL public forum tournament this past weekend!  

AI Assembly Tackles Hot Topics

On Tuesday, the newly formed Upper School AI student committee hosted an assembly focused on the potential benefits and challenges of generative artificial intelligence. Students moderated a panel of three leaders in AI – U.S. Congressman Don Beyer, Professor Brian Hall, and Dr. Sarah Murphy Gray – who spoke to this technology's influence in politics, sports, defense, business, social media, and beyond. All three described themselves as "AI optimists," with a real sense of how AI could transform the world positively, but they guided students not to lose touch with the humanities as we learn these tools. Student moderators Kasim Khapra '25, India Cairncross '25, and Arav Bhargava '24 demonstrated real leadership in facilitating a discussion with the panelists and soliciting questions from the audience. This assembly was first and foremost student-generated, and it was exciting to watch their work over several months pay off. View photos from the discussion.