ORHS Students pose with trophies in front of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium banner after winning first and third in the competition


Joseph Blair and Nicholas Podar, seniors at Oak Ridge High School (ORHS), placed first and third, respectively, at the 58th annual Tennessee Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (TJSHS) held on March 9-10, 2023. The students were awarded scholarships for their efforts and will travel to the National JSHS in Virginia to compete for additional military-sponsored scholarships next month. Additionally, ORHS Thesis advisors Deanna Pickel and Jessica Williams were presented with the annual JSHS Regional Teacher Award honoring contributions to advancing student participation in STEM research.

Blair presented the research he and his partner, fellow ORHS student August Morrill, produced using a form of machine learning called deep feed forward neural networks. The students worked with Dr. Rick Archibald at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to identify exoplanets based on dips in the light of stars, revealing that the exoplanet’s deep feed forward neural network improves through an increase in accuracy and faster computational time.

“Working in research has given me such a wonderful opportunity to learn about Computer Science and how papers and presentations operate in a professional research setting,” Blair said.

Podar and his research partner, Hudson Reynolds, worked with Dr. Debsindhu Bhowmik and Dr. Christopher Stanley at ORNL to use machine learning to replace simulations of tumor growth and progression. Using the personalized tumor geometries that they created, the students created nearly instantaneous predictions of unique tumor simulations.

All four students were able to conduct research at ORNL as part of the Math, Science Thesis course at Oak Ridge High School.

“We’re thankful for our longstanding partnership with ORNL that allows our students these incredible experiences,” Williams said. “Thank you to UTK and JSHS for providing a platform to showcase the students’ hard work.”


About Tennessee Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (TJSHS)
The Tennessee JSHS is one of forty-eight regional JSHS programs and gives high school students a chance to present original scientific research in a public forum and compete for scholarships, while providing participants opportunities for hands-on workshops, panel discussions, career exploration, and research lab visits. Every year, more than 8,000 students from high schools throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Department of Defense Schools of Europe and the Pacific Rim, participate in a regional JSHS symposium. The JSHS is jointly sponsored by the research offices of the US Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force with the aim of advancing the nation’s scientific and technological progress by challenging and engaging students in the STEM disciplines.