Three West students compete at ISEF

Three West students competed at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Dallas, Texas, May 14 through 19.


Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Walling

Shanza Sami ’26 and Lilly Graham ’24 attend the International Science and Engineering Fair in Dallas, Texas May 16.

Lilly Graham and Heidi Du

For the second year in a row, West High sent three students to the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Shanza Sami ’26, Michael Lee ’24 and Lilly Graham ’24 were three of the 15 finalists from Iowa to compete at ISEF. This year, the fair had over 1,600 participants from 75 countries competing for $9 million in prizes and scholarships. 

Sami, who designed a novel extension to catalytic converters that purifies the gasses exiting gas-powered vehicles, was excited to attend her first ISEF and enjoyed the competition.

“Being surrounded by like minded peers who are also interested in STEM is very inspirational,” Sami said. “It’s amazing to see what other high schoolers around the world are able to accomplish with STEM. I’m excited to share my project and have more people learn about all the hard work and research I put into developing my innovation.” 

While Graham attended for ISEF for the second time this year, Lee, like Sami, is a first-year qualifier.

“I took triple negative breast cancer, which is a very serious sub type of breast cancer, and fed [the cancer cells] different types of fatty acids and measured how well they grew,” Lee said. “I’m most excited [about] meeting new people. It’s where all the smart people get together, so it’s a great learning opportunity. It’s where you get to connect to people [from] around the world.”

To qualify for ISEF, students from Iowa must either be chosen at their regional fairs or at the state science fair, which was held this year March 30-31 at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. 

Chemistry Honors teacher Carolyn Walling has been the science fair teacher sponsor at West since 2015. 

“[Students] get to be experts in something that no one else is an expert [in],” Walling said.  “And they get to choose whatever they want to do. I never tell people like, ‘This is your project.’ [Students] come to me and say, ‘This is the project I want to do.’ And then we work from there.”