ITMO: ITMO University Hosts the First IChem Prize Contest for School Students

Twenty-five school students from different regions of Russia came to ITMO University to present their interdisciplinary projects on topics encompassing chemistry, biology, mathematics, and IT. Winners received monetary prizes, invitations to participate in the finals of , and paid internships at ITMO’s Infochemistry Scientific Center.

Ekaterina Skorb, head of ITMO’s , says that the contest was held in conjunction with the launch of a new Bachelor’s program introduced in 2021. Before that, the center held a number of events to engage school students in a new field of science, and the competition has become a result of the ongoing joint work.

“We wanted to get to know our prospective students before they become part of ITMO.FAMILY to introduce them to the program and show our laboratories. And that’s exactly what we did during the practical training in the fall and educational sessions at ,” Ekaterina Skorb explains. “In fact, many universities do the same, namely, collaborate with school students. The IChem Prize contest encourages participants to turn to a wide range of fields. We strived for interdisciplinarity as nowadays, for example, chemical research requires a set of various skills such as machine learning, mathematical methods, and so on. The sooner students understand this, the more successful their scientific career will be.”

Participation in the competition provides a unique opportunity for school students to enroll at ITMO University without having to take entrance exams. The contest’s winners advance to the finals of ITMO.STARS, while for others, it’s a great way to expand their portfolio. One of the winners, Ilya Korolev, even got the chance to present his project to Valery Falkov, the Minister of Science and Higher Education of Russia, and Vladimir Vasilyev, the Rector of ITMO University.

“The IChem Prize contest is another step for talented students towards studying at ITMO. This is part of the university’s career guidance strategies. Not only are we happy to see people with great academic performance in the Unified State Exam and olympiads but also actively promote unconventional methods of admission for those with different talents and skills. Of course, you can study well and develop projects that may never see the light of day, however, this may not be enough. And competitions like IChem Prize are a great way to make a statement,” says Nikolai Pshenichny, head of ITMO’s Career Development Office.

ITMO.NEWS met with the participants of the competition to learn more about their projects, passion for science, and future plans.

Implantation is a quite popular dental practice in the modern world. However, implants may not be compatible with the body and thus it rejects them as something foreign. To solve this problem, we’re working on a model system based on bone components: we study the properties of these systems and methods for obtaining them. We also introduce living cells into systems and observe how they begin to use external substances, destroying and taking their place. Thus, we can stimulate the differentiation and growth of the cells. This can be potentially used to restore lost tissue in the human body.

I’ve been working on this project since the fall, from the moment I started my training at the center. There, we learned about its key fields and had to choose one for ourselves. I went for this idea simply because I was interested in the topic. Now, I come here about three times a week after school and keep working on the project jointly with a team.

Chemistry became one of my interests when I first came to the chemical center of my lyceum last January, and that’s also where I learned about the contest. I decided to take part in the contest to test my strengths and show what we’ve achieved so far. I think that it’s indeed a very important project.

This is the first time I participated in such an event, so the victory was quite unexpected yet extremely pleasant. I’ll spend the prize money on my education: I will either sign up for courses in English and German or buy myself chemical books in English to even further broaden my knowledge.

Mikhail Losev, 11th grade, school named after Marshal Vasily Chuikov – 2nd place

Our goal is to study and define the functions of a specific protein, which plays an unknown role in our body yet has something to do with Williams syndrome. This genetic disorder is characterized by a deletion of genes that encode this protein as well. If we figured out its functions, we could compile treatment for people with this condition.

At my school, we’re used to conducting R&D projects. Our teachers not only teach at school but also work at research centers so they’re interested in finding people for their studies. So did my chemistry teacher. I agreed to work on the topic as it’s a very stimulating and complex project incorporating both chemistry and biology.

We want to take part in as many contests and conferences as possible, so IChem Prize was a perfect opportunity to present our project once again to experts. Such events are a rarity in Russia, and the thing is that we are often misunderstood: biologists believe that there is too much chemistry in our project, and chemists – that there is too much biology. And IChem Prize was to unleash the full potential of our work.

I’m currently finishing my last year of school and about to enroll at university. I haven’t made a final decision yet but ITMO may be an option.

I’m working on obtaining a composite of surgical suture material. Widely used to stitch blood vessels together, this material often causes complications for up to three years after surgery. The main side effect, which can even be fatal, is clotting.

I’ve been doing modifications on the surfaces of surgical threads using a biocompatible polymer and a direct anticoagulant. We checked our samples for hemocompatibility, ran our tests on rats, and observed the formation of tissue within seven days after suturing blood vessels. As a result, we obtained an even protein layer without any signs of thickening.

I started doing research in the eighth grade when I joined the Center for the Development of Children’s Creativity in Science and Engineering under the Andrey Melnichenko Foundation. We were offered to choose a laboratory for our work on the project, and I decided on the laboratory of macromolecular compounds at Kemerovo State University. At first, I studied the material and the prosperities of rubber polycarbonate. Then, we had to figure out its possible applications, and I learned about vascular surgery and its challenges – that’s how this project was born.

Earlier in the year, I was looking for competitions and came across the IChem Prize contest. I decided to apply because it was a great chance to visit different universities and get familiar with the work at their laboratories. In general, I often participate in Russian competitions: several times I won the national competition under the Andrey Melnichenko Foundation and took second place in the Russian Outbreak in Science and Technology contest in Kazan. This is how I get to know universities, communicate with other participants, learn something new, and acquire new experiences. ITMO is definitely a good school.

My project focuses on the qualitative and quantitative analysis of solutions based on the dynamics of cavitation bubbles. The ultrasound is proved to trigger the formation of cavitation bubbles, and the dynamics of these bubbles depend on a kind of solution. This knowledge can help us identify solutions in order to perform the analysis of biological fluids, wastewater, and so on.

I’ve been engaged in this project since the end of last October. Back then, we had intensive courses from ITMO’s Infochemistry Scientific Center where we learned more about its key fields: chemometrics, biomimetic materials, sonochemistry, etc. During the practical training, we had the chance to visit ITMO’s laboratories and at this point, I realized that I want to be here 24/7. Then, I went to Zerkalniy Camp, and I really enjoyed it!

I want to continue with my training as I have many plans for the future, and we’re also doing an article together with professor Tatiana Orlova and Svetlana Ulasevich. No doubt I’d like to develop in this field, continue our collaboration – and, of course, become a student at ITMO University. I’m extremely grateful to Svetlana Ulasevich for helping me to fully dive into the field. She didn’t just deliver lectures and gave lab assignments but made me really get into and get to know a substance so that I could understand everything well.

My project is related to the immobilization of enzymes on the surface of electrodes. The goal is to create a new generation of biosensors that can detect a wide range of complex compounds in biological fluids, for example, uric acid. This technology may potentially improve the diagnosis of various diseases such as gout, kidney stone disease, and diabetes, as well as help medical specialists monitor patients with such conditions.

I’ve been doing this project for two months now. I started it at Zerkalniy Camp and continue to work at ITMO’s center in my spare time. I chose this topic because it’s a pressing issue for many people.

Since the eighth grade, I’ve been into chemistry. Thanks to Ekaterina Skorb who gave lectures at my school, I learned about ITMO and its Infochemistry Scientific Center. I became interested in the new field and immediately signed up for practical training and camp. My goal is to get into ITMO University through ITMO.STARS. That’s why I decided to first try my hand at this contest.

My project is aimed at finding a cure for chronic and genetic bone diseases. There is, for example, such a disease called Proteus syndrome that causes a chaotic growth of bone tissue in the human body.

We grow hydroxyapatite, the main inorganic component of bone tissue, in vitro. In the long run, hydroxyapatite can be used to treat fractures, for instance. Scientists study this component yet it’s not widely used in medicine, and medical specialists still prefer metal implants.

The problem is that it’s extremely fragile and can’t be used at room temperature. Therefore, we have to figure out a certain concentration that would make hydroxyapatite a solid and abrasive resistant material. Now, we’re experimenting with the concentration of substances to obtain hydroxyapatite crystals and examine them under a microscope.

I joined the center in the fall. I’ve been doing my project for six months and have already obtained a lot of useful data. I fell in love with it and now come here literally every day. I want to explore infochemistry as a new field, as well as become a pharmacologist, give lectures at universities, see the world, and work at Harvard University or the University of Oxford.

In fact, chemistry became my passion not so long ago. Before that, I thought that I’m more into human sciences, I loved history and wanted to become an art critic. However, we’ve got a wonderful chemistry teacher at school. His name is Mikhail Vorotnitsky and thanks to him, I fell in love with chemistry. That’s why I decided to become involved in the center’s activities and take part in various olympiads. And now I’m very happy to go to ITMO as it offers a lot of unique prospects.

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