By Tiffany Whitfield

The next generation of budding scientists and engineers filled the Chartway Arena at the Ted Constant Convocation Center on April 13, for the 2024 Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair (VSSEF). Old Dominion University’s College of Sciences and Batten College of Engineering hosted this year’s crowning event. More than 220 students from across the Commonwealth of Virginia presented their projects that showcased their aptitude in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Co-sponsors for the VSSEF include Leidos and American Electric Power Foundation.

The 220 VSSEF high school competitors worked for months on their projects and won their respective local and 11 regional fairs from all around Virginia to have the opportunity to face off. The wide range of STEM projects that students worked on were inspired based on personal experiences and their natural curiosity to explore research on a deeper level.

High school competitors arrived at 7:30 a.m., to compete in category and special awards judging. There were 157 projects and 47 team projects that took center court at the Chartway Arena. Rows of projects lined the center court and students were able to interact and see the hard work put in by their peer competitors.

Project categories included: animal sciences, chemistry, robotics, biomedical, physics, environmental sciences, software, material science and microbiology, just to name a few. Every student showed off their analytical, research, design, and presentation skills to judges in this highly competitive fair.

Saumik Das, from the Academies of Loudon, in Leesburg, Virginia competed in the category of Behavioral and Social Sciences and his project was inspired by his own premature birth. “My project is all about alleviating premature birth defects and this is really close to my heart as I was born premature at 26 weeks. I personally went through speech therapy and physical therapy and what my project is doing is essentially finding an affordable drug to alleviate premature birth defects and improve neonatal interaction and locomotion.”

A team of three competitors, Isabelle Hoover, Lauren Kim and Zainab Soofi from the Governor’s School at Innovation Park in Manassas City, Virginia worked for months on their novel research project. “We’re discovering the effect of noise pollution on the behaviors and development of brine shrimp,” said Kim. “During their incubation period we coded vibration machines with different intervals to simulate vibrations they may be exposed to in the real world,” said Hoover. The team was able take data collection on their movements, measurements, and survival rate. “The most significant thing is that they move significantly faster when they are exposed to this noise pollution, and this can have very drastic effects on ecosystems because they are such a large prey source for many different predators and predators cannot predict where their prey will go,” said Soofi.   

Duo team Tanish Singh and Abhinav Tadinada from Mills E. Godwin High School in Richmond, Virginia competed in the physics category. “We created a novel space navigation device that’s internally housed within the spacecraft; and it uses the properties of quantum mechanics within machine learning and from that we can detect the exact location of a spacecraft and it serves as a GPS system for space exploration,” said Singh. “We’ve been working on this for a little more than a year,” said Tadinada.

After five hours of judging and deliberations, 17 students with 9 individual and 3 team projects were left on the arena floor, and grand prize judging then commenced.

Assembling an event of this magnitude was a massive team effort. Gabriel Franke, Operations Manager and Assistant to the Dean of College of Sciences, served as the VSSEF fair director. Justin Mason, director of the Michael and Kimthanh Lê Planetarium was the VSSEF assistant fair director.

Franke was elated for the competition. “It was very exciting to view the student’s original, innovative projects many of which addressed real-world problems. ODU VSSEF was delighted to provide both a physical space for young scientists to showcase their work, and to give the students a chance to be a part of a community of scientists and engineers. My favorite part of this year’s VSSEF was hearing the students’ discussion when they left the arena floor after the category round judging. Their conversations seemed to be entirely about their interactions with the judges, and it was great to hear their excitement when discussing the judges’ questions and comments.”

Mason was thrilled to see the students fully engaged in the competition. “A science fair epitomizes the boundless potential of student curiosity and innovation. Each project a testament to the power of hands-on learning and scientific exploration. It was an honor for ODU to host the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair for the past three years. From a virtual fair in 2022, to an in-person fair in ‘23 and ’24, it’s the work of countless ODU faculty, staff, and students that have made this event a tremendous success year after year."

Additional vital team members included ODU’s Associate Dean Lesley Greene who served as the chair of the scientific review committee and ODU Chemistry Lecturer Emily Hardy who served as judge coordinator.

Judges who volunteered their time were ODU faculty, graduate students, alumni and community partners. The array of projects that the high school competitors exhibited at the 2024 VSSEF made it challenging for judges.

The judges came from all over the Commonwealth of Virginia. Local professionals who had the difficult task of judging included employees of NASA, Hampton Roads Sanitation District, Norfolk Botanical Gardens, and First Landing State Park. There were also faculty and graduate students from Hampton University, Virginia Tech, The College of William & Mary, and Virginia Commonwealth University. The majority of the judges were ODU faculty and graduate students. 

During the competition, an outreach fair was held in the lobby of the Chartway Arena so these talented students could learn more about ODU. Faculty from various offices and departments, along with student organizations, filled the lobby of the Chartway Arena to talk to students and parents about the journey of Monarch opportunities.

At 3:30 p.m., the VSSEF awards ceremony began. VSSEF Vice President and Director of Roanoke Valley Governor’s School for Science and Technology Mark Levy welcomed students during the awards ceremony. Then WHRV’s on-air talent and ODU alumnus, Doug Boynton served as the emcee for the awards ceremony.

Boynton congratulated all the competitors and said, “It’s fantastic to have every one of you here in Norfolk this afternoon. Wow you all have worked so hard to get here.”

See ODU's College of Sciences Flickr for a full set of photos from the very active day of the 2024 VSSEF competition and to see winners and an array of projects.


The list of 12 category winners is below. See the full list of winners from the 2024 VSSEF along with special award winners.

Animal, Behavioral, and Social Sciences

  • First Place: Isabelle Hoover, Lauren Kim, and Zainab Soofi  
  • Title: The Effect of Anthropogenic Vibrations on the Behaviors and Development of Artemia salina

Behavioral and Social Sciences and Cellular & Molecular Biology

  • First Place: Saumik Das
  • Title: The effect of koumine on social interaction and locomotion of a traumatic injury induced Drosophila melanogaster offspring model (mimicking preterm birth effects)

Biomedical Sciences, Biomedical Engineering & Translation Medicine

  • First Place: Anna Mohanty
  • Title: Alcott: A Convolutional Neural Network to Predict Multimeric Interactions in HIV-1 Neural Infection

Cell, Molecular and Computational Biology & Biochemistry

  • First Place: Roger Zhu 
  • Title: In Vivo Nanoscopic Elucidation of Neuromodulatory Transmission


  • First Place: Ashrita Gandhari
  • Title: Combating Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with Plant-Derived Biocompounds Quercetin & Vincristine

Earth and Environmental Sciences

  • First Place: Wesley Kang
  • Title: A Novel Mathematical Model To Predict Wastewater Induced Earthquakes

Engineering Technology & Sustainable Design

  • First Place: Chetana Gunawardhana
  • Title: HypeFL: Submersible Aerial Vehicle Design Study

Materials Science

  • First Place: Valeria Novoa
  • Title: Optimizing Graphitic Carbon Nitride to Create a Safe, Effective, and Economic form of Hydrogen Storage


  • First Place: Gabriela Konde  
  • Title: Optimal Sound Frequencies for Targeted E. coli Biofilm Eradication on Medical Devices

Physics, Math, and Astronomy

  • First Place: Tanish Singh and Abhinav Tadinada  
  • Title: Novel Application of Quantum Machine Learning for Pulsar Classification using Qubit-Based Encoding and Bloch Sphere Mapping

Plant Sciences

  • First Place: Josephine Eaton
  • Title: Effectiveness of Glycine max on Microplastic Removal from Soil

Robotics, Software and Embedded Systems

  • First Place: Anant Khandelwal, Sritan Motati and Siddhant Sood
  • Title: Diffusion-Based Conditional Mesh Synthesis for Efficient 3D Prototyping  

Each of the grand prize winners will get an all-expenses paid trip to attend the international competition, Regeneron ISEF 2024, the world's largest pre-college STEM competition from May 11 to 17 in Los Angeles, California at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

ODU has hosted the events since 2021 and VSSEF will be held at a new site for 2025.