Three years ago, Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna made a decision to do something different.
The Long Island, New York, high school senior had always been passionate about science, but she noticed her peers at science competitions were all doing the same kind of projects, and she didn’t like that. She wanted to research something that people weren’t already talking about.
The decision paid off, most notably when Uwamanzu-Nna was named a finalist in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search and attended the annual White House Science Fair on Wednesday to showcase her work.
“I’m literally here presenting why I love cement,” Uwamanzu-Nna said. “Some people are looking at me weird.”
The 17-year-old may profess her feelings for cement now, but she makes it clear that it was not love at first sight.
When Uwamanzu-Nna initially came across cement in her online research, she thought, “Who works with cement?” She remembers thinking it was nothing special, just rocks and water.
“In the back of my mind, I was like, I’m definitely not going to do it,” Uwamanzu-Nna said.
Still, she decided she would share the topic with her research teacher, Michelle Flannory, at least so they could have a good laugh about it.
Instead of laughing it off, Flannory encouraged Uwamanzu-Nna to give it a chance. That conversation became the catalyst that changed the Elmont Memorial High School student’s mind.
Uwamanzu-Nna’s findings revealed that by introducing an ingredient to cement slurries, it was ultimately possible to help prevent offshore oil wells from leaking. She credits Flannory for playing a major role in helping her and other students realize their full potential.
The accolades are an honor to receive, Uwamanzu-Nna said, but it’s seeing Flannory’s reaction that’s really special.
“The ultimate satisfaction and the ultimate fulfilment really comes, I think, from seeing the smile on her face,” said Uwamanzu-Nna.
The high school senior may have just finished presenting the findings from one project, but she knows there’s another awaiting her attention: deciding which of the 12 schools to which she was accepted - including all eight Ivy Leagues - she will call home in the fall.
Uwamanzu-Nna has plans to pursue biochemistry and sustainable development, but mostly she’s just looking forward to seeing where her interests will take her next.