Angela Zhang

AngelaAngela Zhang, 17, is a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, North Carolina. At her school, she is an active member of the varsity Science Olympiad team and the math club. Additionally, Angela is a co-president of the Biological Society, and serves her school community as a member of the Orientation Committee and as a teaching assistant for the chemistry department. Outside of school, she is a soloist with the Chapel Hill Dance Theater, and also engages in many forms of dance, including ballet and traditional Chinese dance. She is part of the Research in Chemistry program at her school, and has conducted research in pharmacology, biochemistry, space nutrition, and cyber security. Angela began her current project last summer through the Howard Hughes Precollege Program at Duke University. Her mentors are Dr. William Parker, from the Duke University Medical Center, and Dr. Myra Halpin, at the NC School of Science and Mathematics.

Angela’s updates from Beijing:

Sunday, March 27, 2011
Today was packed full of program conclusions and the beginning of touring the area. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we were off to Dayu High School to attend the closing ceremony and to pack up our presentation booths. At the ceremony, all us foreigners were awarded first place medals, while the Chinese students were all awarded first or second place medals (there were about eighty people per place). Personally, I thought the general medals were pointless, and we agreed upon the idea that only the top few students in each category should have been awarded, as they would only be ashamed to be presented a second place medal. Though this science fair was similar to those in the U.S. in many respects, for this aspect of the event I supported the American system.

Next, we were back at our posters, standing proud and upright while the mayor of Beijing passed through. Unfortunately, the mayor seemed disinterested in our projects, and skipped over our exhibits after examining the Ukrainian delegation’s projects. However, we kept a positive attitude and traveled among the foreign delegations’ exhibits, asking other students to take photos with us to preserve these wonderful memories. They were more than happy to do so. Unfortunately, this meant that Aaron, our interpreter, was often stuck with taking photos with all four of our cameras at once, and we surely appreciated that he remained willing to do so as we circled the area.

Finally, we ate our last – and best – meal at the school canteen. All four dishes were delicious this time, and I devoured everything except for a cake-like cornbread side. We knew we would miss this delicious food, and wholeheartedly agreed upon the fact that we would long to come back upon our return to PFM casseroles and mush. Of course, we would forever miss the Chinese friends we had made at the presentations, and, as for the other foreign delegations, we were thankful that we still had a few days left to spend with them.

In the afternoon, we were off to the Great Wall. In our hotel room, we changed out of our formal suits and bundled up with several layers of shirts, hoodies, and jackets, as well as thick socks. After an hour long drive (during which we kept busy competing with the Australians in a candy wrapper-tearing game), we arrived to discover that it was only slightly windy, but by no means freezing as we had expected. The walk up was strenuous – most of the slopes were very steep, and the distance between towers (our temporary resting points) could be long. We were constantly wondering when we would turn back, when our thighs would collapse. Though I’d been to the Great Wall a couple years ago, I can honestly say the climb being as demanding (or maybe I’m just out of shape since I came to NCSSM). But fairly soon we reached a tower that had been blocked, took several final pictures (Ryan even fell victim to a boxing pose with Aaron), and began our descent. As we tackled the steep slopes once again, we adopted Aaron’s method of weaving rather than walking in a straight line, to decrease the magnitude of the directional derivative of our path, rather than traveling directly on the gradient (guess multivariable calculus CAN come in handy sometimes). We finally reached the “fortress” (aka our starting point), took a quick stop at a gift shop (where we found a couple other delegations), and reboarded the bus to head back to the hotel.

Saturday, March 26, 2011
I’ve been to many poster presentation sessions, especially this year. But the longest one was perhaps three hours at most. However, after today, I can say that I’ve had the experience (and privilege?) of doing a full six or seven hours of poster sharing in one day. And boy was it exhausting (in fact, I’m nodding off at the moment).

I woke up incredibly groggy this morning – with jetlag, six hours of sleep simply wasn’t enough. After a curtailed nap on the bus, I dove into poster sharing. Though I was able to share my research with plenty of people today, I received many of the same responses, as well as some unique ones that stood out to me:

(1) Upon asking them if they would like me to explain my project, then if they understood English, they would often exclaim “xxxxx?” or “are you an immigrant?” From thereon, the conversation would levitate away from the science itself and more towards the origins of my parents.

(2) One woman asked me if I believed I was Chinese or American. “Chinese, of course,” I replied in Mandarin (one of the few phrases I managed to utter without hesitation). She later came back and bowed to me – she told me that all other Chinese-Americans she had talked to classified themselves as American. Personally, I was raised under Chinese morals in a Chinese household, and though I am a part of the American delegation, it is without a doubt that I believe that my cultural identity is completely Chinese. She told me she was more than honored, and even came back for a couple photo-ops.

(3) Two twin teenage girls almost went into shock after realizing my Mandarin wasn’t perfect. At first, it seemed as if I could only speak English. But when I informed them of the fact that I could speak Mandarin in a more conventional context, such as at home, but that I could not grasp scientific terms in Mandarin, they simply could not believe it.

After a full morning and afternoon of poster presenting, it was back to the hotel for the awards ceremony. As one who participated in traditional Chinese dance in elementary and middle school, I thoroughly enjoyed all the dancers put on by students from Dayu High School and other Beijing schools. They even presented all of us “foreigners” with an extravagant gift that we’ll all find difficult to return with on the flight back, but we all very much appreciated it. We watched as studious Chinese students lined up to get their awards, many of which included scholarships (up to 200,000 Yuan, equivalent to around 30,000). Though the audio was deafening at times, the ceremony was amazing, and we felt honored to be in its attendance.

Friday, March 25, 2011
Today was much more focused on the science fair itself – in the morning, we were introduced to the campus of Dayu High School, where the fair was held, and in the afternoon, we attended the opening ceremony and began to display our projects.

Though I’d seen Dayu High School the day before, I continued to be amazed. At almost every moment during the tour, I would compare the campus to that of my own high school, the NC School of Science and Math, and the majority of the time, Dayu emerged on top. The athletic field was kept in pristine condition, the cafeteria food was delicious (far better than our PFM food at NCSSM), and the teaching buildings were kept orderly.

Our delegation continued to be amazed in the afternoon, with the opening ceremony in the school auditorium. They not only played Chinese music that we loved (and I found adorable) while we were filing in, but they also gave us plastic noisemakers and clappers that near-guaranteed active participation from the audience. The ceremony itself was full of formalities – BAST officials making speeches (which I could only half understand with my broken Mandarin) and introductions to the represented districts of Beijing. It soon became my objective to try to decipher the embellished language used in the speeches, a challenge I continued for the rest of the day.

After the welcoming ceremony, we proceeded to explain our research projects to some of the students and teachers that were present. Though I’d presented my research many times at several conferences and competitions in the United States, I soon came to the startling realization that (1) people seemed to levitate towards Jenifer’s poster and prefer hers over mine, and (2) I felt embarrassed to talk to people sharing my same heritage in broken Mandarin. When Aaron, one of our translators, was busy helping others, the only things I could communicate to the non-English speaking Chinese were “bacteria” and “breast milk.” I felt especially so when an important Beijing Association of Science and Technology (BAST) official came to my poster, and I was forced to rely completely on Aaron. Of course, there were excessive amounts of media coverage to document this.

When we returned to the hotel, we worked a little with Aaron to improve our presentations, and were soon off to sleep (though by this point, it was already past midnight).

Thursday, March 24, 2011
Wow, it’s hard to believe that almost half of the trip has already passed by – it truly seems as if we just arrived. Our days have been packed with touring the Mentougou District of Beijing, sharing our research, and communicating with our Chinese and foreign counterparts. In fact, our schedules have been so full that we barely have to time to even feel jetlagged!

Aside from Fran’s long lost luggage, the flight to Beijing ran very smoothly. We watched a couple movies (Ryan watched five or six, while I was conked out), ate some better-than-PFM (the name of the NCSSM cafeteria) food… And when we arrived at the airport, we were warmly greeted by our translators and guides, and even got to meet the Danish delegation.

After an hour-long bus ride, our hotel finally came into view. It looked like just any old hotel at first – nice, but nothing spectacular. But when we left the lobby to find our rooms, we realized the breadth of the hotel buildings (model attached below). Our rooms themselves were also extraordinary, complete with a flat screen TV, sitting room, and fridge (though the light switch system quite finicky). The hotel also had a restaurant, where we eat most of our meals.

The next day was pretty packed – we toured the Jietai Temple, went to the school gym to set up our poster stations, attended a formal welcome banquet, and even went bowling with our new international friends. The Jietai Temple, also located in the Mentougou District, is a temple that is now out of commission due to the influx of tourists. Bearing the cold that contrasted dramatically with the mid-70s of the Triangle, we learned of the origins of the different Buddhas as well as the long history of the many uniquely shaped trees. Melissa and I tried to decipher the tour guide’s Mandarin explanations before the interpreters had the chance to translate them into English. I was, however, incredibly impressed with how their translations were near flawless. I was even able to apply some of my newfound knowledge in Asian history during this tour, recognizing what a bodhisattva was, as well as who Emperor Qianlong was.

Afterwards, we returned to the hotel for lunch and were quickly off to Dayu High School to set up our posters. My first impression of the school? The campus was breathtakingly beautiful – large and orderly, yet at the same time aesthetically pleasing. Though we struggled at first, we eventually devised a method to hang up the posters and display our project translations.

After another an exquisitely delicious welcome banquet at the hotel, we headed out to the neighboring bowling alley with the Australian, Italian, and Danish students. While we struggled at first to pay for the games and bowling shoes, I was able to translate shoe sizes and costs, and the rest of the night passed by smoothly. We were even given complimentary arcade game tokens, with which we used to play shooting and car racing games.

When we returned to our hotel rooms, we were exhausted. After working with our translator on project clarifications, we called it a night, the only regret being that we didn’t have time to finish our makeup homework for the day.