May 4, 2022

PHS Students Win Samsung Competition, $110,000 Prize for Soldier Flies Project

CHAMPION RESEARCHERS: Princeton High School (PHS) student researchers, from left, Matthew Livingston, Ngan Le, and George Kopf presented their project, to eliminate food waste with black soldier flies, at the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow National Finalist Pitch Event on April 25 in New York City. The PHS team took home a national winner grand prize and $110,000 in technology and supplies for PHS. (Photo courtesy of Samsung)

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton High School’s (PHS) research team has been named one of three national winners in the 12th annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, receiving $100,000 in technology and supplies for PHS, as well as an additional $10,000 in technology as winner of the Samsung Employee Choice Award.

From thousands of public school entries from across the country, PHS was originally selected as one of 100 New Jersey winners, then one of 10 national finalists. On April 25, PHS senior Matthew Livingston and juniors Ngan Le and George Kopf presented the team’s project to a panel of judges at Samsung in New York City.

“Because of their creative use of STEM to utilize technology and the black soldier fly to bioremediate food waste into usable products such as protein for animal feed or as a substitute for palm oil in cosmetics, judges selected Princeton High School as a National Grand Prize winner,” Samsung wrote in a press release.

“We are thankful to have the opportunity to recognize such a remarkable group of inspiring and innovative Solve for Tomorrow students in person after a two-year virtual hiatus,” said Ann Woo, senior director of corporate citizenship at Samsung Electronics America. “These students continue to tackle problems of national importance with extraordinary solutions. We look forward to seeing our Samsung Solve for Tomorrow students continue to make a difference in or world in the years to come.”

The PHS project was originally formed as a collaboration between English Language Learners (ELL) and research program participants, a total of more than 15 students. Mark Eastburn and Jacqueline Katz, PHS science teachers and research program leaders, accompanied the three student presenters to the New York Samsung competition.

In its eighth year, the PHS research program allows students to work on one project of their own design over a period of three years. “They ask the question, and they answer the question,” said Katz. “We’re not placing them into another scientist’s lab to work on someone else’s project. They’re creating it from the ground up. At Samsung, it seemed that our product came through a process that was unique, unlike that of any other school there. It was a product of our own students’ interests.”

Katz went on to emphasize the importance of the collaboration with ELL classes and the plan to expand on that facet of the research program.

“When the research program started it was myself and eight students in this classroom, and this year we had 120 applicants, three times the number of applicants we had last year,” she said.

“We hope we can continue expanding if the interest and enthusiasm continues,” said Eastburn. “This is real-world application for everything that they’re learning in the classroom.”

Livingston, who will be going to Cornell University next year where he hopes to double major in food sciences and entomology (the study of insects), plans to continue his research on black soldier flies.

“I’d really like to keep
exploring what palatable options remain for black soldier flies,” he said. “They won’t create harmful waste products, and you can eat them after processing.”

Last year he sent flies to a Rutgers University microbiology lab that confirmed that they were good for human consumption. “Since we did that we’ve made them into hummus and hazelnut spreads and oil butter to create a whole bunch of new food options,” he added.

His experience at Samsung, he said, “was really helpful in getting the word out. It showed me that there’s lots of potential in this area. It showed that it’s easy to bridge the gap between pure research and marketing towards the general public. We must have done something right. It was great.”

Kopf also emphasized making the bridge between the laboratory and practical uses for the masses. “We’re going to work on making this bigger,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll create something that we can market to people. We’re definitely thinking about starting a program where people could actually use this in their homes, which I think is awesome.”

Le also emphasized the value of applying her classroom knowledge in real-world circumstances. “A lot of the things I was learning in my chemistry and biology classes were concepts that I could actually apply, and see physically.”

She continued, “I have an interest in skin care and dermatology, and I’ve also had a long love for sustainability. For me, especially in the climate movement, there’s a sense of hopelessness. Seeing potential solutions, even if they are on a small scale for now, seeing them grow into something larger has been really important to me. It makes me feel that I have some role in making sure that it can get better.”

Le described her feelings as the PHS team progressed through the levels of the Samsung competition. “When we first entered it felt daunting to invest so much time and hope and dedication, because the chances of getting far seemed really small,” she said. “But if you put enough hard work and time into something and ensure that even if it doesn’t work out in one competition, there are many others who are going to share the same views. And make sure you are proud of what you create.”

Immediately after their April 25 presentation, Eastburn asked the students how they felt about the experience. “The fact that they all said, ‘I think we did the best we could, and I feel good about how it all went,’ for me that made it worth going. To see that they had all taken that leadership, that ownership of the project and really felt they’d done the best job they possibly could — that was even better than winning the award.”