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June 3, 2014 > Local student wins top honors in international essay competition

Local student wins top honors in international essay competition

Submitted By Tara Stewart

William (Ray) Duan, a junior at Irvington High School, recently won first place in the senior division (grades 10-12) of The DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition. His essay, ÒDefeating Desertification: Magical Cyanobacteria,Ó was selected as the top essay out of nearly 10,000 submitted from across the United States and Canada.

The DuPont Challenge, now in its 28th year, is a premier science writing competition that encourages students to think about some of the worldÕs greatest challenges and how they can be overcome through innovations in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Students in grades 712 are asked to submit an essay in one of the following categories: Together, we can feed the world; Together, we can build a secure energy future; Together, we can protect people and the environment; and Together, we can be innovative anywhere.

ÒThe DuPont Challenge gives students a unique opportunity to think critically about global challenges, and explore the role that science has in creating solutions,Ó said Rosanne Danner, managing director, Corporate Philanthropy and Education at DuPont. ÒThese kinds of skills are essential to the leaders of tomorrow who will help provide enough food, energy and protection for a growing population.Ó

ÒAfter I learned about the Dust Bowl in history class, I became interested in the science of land degradation and realized that currently for many countries, desertification is a major challenge,Ó Duan said. ÒI became fascinated with research on the role that cyanobacteria, one of the oldest life forms on Earth, could play in combating desertification.Ó He believes that the bacterial-spray method he describes in his essay Òcould hold great potential to help many countries combat land degradation in a practical and economical manner.Ó

As the first place winner, Duan received a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond, reference materials for his entire school from Britannica Digital Learning, and a school subscription to online resource collections from NBC Learn. Duan and his sponsoring teacher, Nicole Marsella-Jensen, were among the winners invited on an expenses-paid awards trip to Orlando, Fla., including a visit to Kennedy Space Center. Marsella-Jensen also received a $500 teaching grant and an expenses-paid trip to the 2015 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) National Conference.

Marsella-Jensen, who has been teaching English at Irvington High School for six years, said of Duan, ÒI am very excited for Duan, but am not surprised. He is focused, intelligent, and hard-working.Ó

The DuPont Challenge was created in 1986 to honor the heroic men and women lost in the Challenger space shuttle disaster of that year. The crew included Ellison S. Onizuka, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, and Sharon Christa McAuliffe, who was the first teacher in space. The DuPont Challenge continues to draw inspiration from these individuals, as well as all who work to improve the world through scientific and technological discovery. The DuPont Challenge offers more than $100,000 in total prizes and awards.

To learn more about The DuPont Challenge, please visit:

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