NSA’s Executive Director, Mr. Harry Coker, wasn’t expecting hugs from the winners of the 2019 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) when he took the stage last month, but when he called on Daniel Santiago of Puerto Rico, that’s exactly what he got. In his joyous celebration, Daniel leapt onto the stage and bear-hugged Mr. Coker, missing Mr. Coker’s congratulatory handshake completely. A roar of excitement erupted from the group of Puerto Rican students near the front of the stage as Mr. Coker skillfully adjusted and remained standing. Daniel, a high school junior, was one of 17 NSA finalists and won first place in mathematics for his research on Loop Spaces and Homotopy.
Intel ISEF, a program of the Society for Science & the Public, is the world’s largest pre-college science competition, providing a forum for high school students from 80 countries, regions, and territories to showcase their independent research annually. Each year, millions of students worldwide compete in local science fairs; winners go on to participate in Intel ISEF-affiliated regional, state, and national fairs to earn the opportunity to attend the Intel ISEF. About two-thirds of the students are American citizens.
NSA’s Laboratory for Advanced Cybersecurity Research led a team of judges in reviewing 1,850 student exhibits to select 17 students for awards in the fields of science of security, mathematics, material science, and cyber pioneer. While 62 organizations, including several from the U.S. government, sponsored awards at ISEF, NSA was the only Intelligence Community participant and the only organization to award cybersecurity prizes.
In addition to judging the entries, the NSA team organized an Agency booth that promoted science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outreach to over 8,000 students, parents, and teachers in attendance. Booth attractions included two World War II cipher technologies: an Enigma machine and a CSP-1500 device. These machines provided opportunities to teach history and link NSA’s commitment to STEM for national and international security. Other booth activities included a mathematics research festival where team members leveraged women in mathematics society materials to promote hands-on math activities.