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NEWS | May 15, 2017

NRL SEAP Student Heads to International Science and Engineering Fair

By Jonathan B. Holloway

MONTEREY, Calif. — Science fair season is coming to a close, yet the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) continues to find ways to effectively contribute to the success of high school STEM students.

Such is the case with Dr. James Doyle, head of Mesoscale Modeling Section at NRL-Marine Meteorology Division (NRL-MRY) in Monterey, California, and mentor of Megan Tang, an 11th-grader at York High School in Monterey. She recently won the grand prize at the 2017 Monterey County Science and Engineering Fair. Doyle and Tang’s mentor-student relationship is the result of NRL’s science and engineering apprentice program (SEAP).

Tang amassed several honors resulting from placing first in the environmental science category, including special awards from: American Meteorological SocietyNational Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Navy and Marine Corps., and U.S. Air force.

"Megan is a very bright and a hard-working student, and we really enjoyed hosting her at NRL as a SEAP student," said Doyle. "Collaboration continued after her formal internship and led to the research she submitted into the Monterey County Science and Engineering Fair."

Tang’s not done. Her next stop is the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Los Angeles from May 14-19, made possible by the Society for Science and the Public. The science fair is the biggest international science fair for high school students before they head off to college. Each year, students from more than 70 countries, regions and territories are given the opportunity to exhibit their research and projects, and vie for $4 million in awards and scholarships.

Tang credits her success to her development at NRL-MRY, using its resources and the added benefit of Doyle’s hands-on approach to mentoring.

"Dr. Doyle was supportive and helpful as I was exploring and trying to decide on a topic of research focus," said Tang. "He provided comments and suggestions on my initial results and gave me important reference papers, I then decided on a science fair topic from encouraging data results."

Doyle’s research involves observing tropical cyclones part of Office of Naval Research’s tropical cyclone intensification (TCI) program. The TCI program measured hurricanes at the surface to 60,000 feet above three regional bodies of water: North Atlantic, Eastern Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.

The TCI program used 800 soda-can sized instruments to measure wind speed, temperature and moisture, called dropsondes, deployed from NASA’s WB-57 aircraft. The TCI dropsondes sampled four tropical cyclones with unprecedented high-horizontal resolution and were combined with high-resolution surface wind observations from the Hurricane Imaging Radiometer (HIRAD, also on the WB-57.

Tang's winning project, titled "Using Dropsonde Descending Speed to Determine Vertical Velocity in a Hurricane," uses data and empirically builds on research conducted by Doyle. Tang computed the vertical air motions derived from the fall speeds of dropsondes used in the TCI program.

Tang credits her school’s science program and data from Doyle’s research for the framework and outcome of her project.

"I used knowledge from my science course at school to construct a physics-based model of a dropsondes’ descent from an aircraft through a hurricane. Using the data collected, I determined the drag coefficient of each dropsonde to obtain drop speed," Tang said. "Then I found the vertical velocity of the hurricane air by subtracting modeled drop speed from the actual descending speed."

The SEAP program is available to select high school students across the nation. The program gives students the chance to discover careers in science and technology, and explore the accessibility of numerous science resources and facilities. The program is a highly valued asset to NRL. It provides an intellectual return by investing in the future of students interested in careers in the science and technology community.

Click here to learn more about SEAP and how you can get involved.

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