Two Notre Dame students take home big science awards

For senior Malini Mukherji, it's the third year in a row she's earned entry into upcoming international fair.

At this past weekend's 24th Michigan Science & Engineering Fair, held at Kettering University in Flint, Notre Dame students (and siblings) Malini and Devarshi Mukherji took home special awards, with Malini taking the "Grand Award."

ND Prep senior Malini's project, entitled "Increasing Pumped Storage Hydropower Flow Rate Using a Non‐linear Penstock," won one of only two Grand Awards at the fair and qualifies her for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which will be held in Pittsburgh May 13-18. This will be the third year in a row that Malini has qualified for the ISEF.

Malini's work on her project also earned her a number of special professional awards, including a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement from the American Meteorological Society; a State Certificate from the Association of Women GeoScientists; a $200 cash award and an Intel Award Certificate from Intel Corporation; and an award from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which recognizes her project as having intellectual property; it will also  be recognized at "All About STEM" in Detroit on Saturday, April 14.

Devarshi Mukherji, a freshman at NDP and the only 9th grader in his group at the fair, won a second-place award at the Michigan fair for his project, "Unraveling Alzheimer's Tau Aggregates using CyP40 ‐ A Computational Study," in the event's Computational Biology category. 

Last month, Malini and Devarshi earned significant accolades as part of the Science and Engineering Fair of Metro Detroit, which was held downtown at Cobo Center. Malini won first place in the "Energy: Physical" category, which qualified her for the state event, and Devarshi brought home second place in the "Computational Biology" category and also qualified him for the Michigan Science Fair.

Summaries/abstracts of Malini and Devarshi's award-winning projects are below.

Malini Mukherji (12)
Project Title: Increasing Hydropower Flow Rate Using a Non-linear Penstock
Abstract: The Brachistochrone Problem ponders the shape of the curve down which a bead sliding from rest and accelerated by gravity will slip, without friction, from one point to another in the shortest amount of time. The Brachistochrone curve has many applications in sports engineering, including downhill skiing, surfing, skateboarding and rollercoasters. After exploring the solution of the Brachistochrone Problem — a cycloid — I wanted to see how I could apply the Brachistochrone curve to something important that I was interested in: energy. As I looked at hydropower systems, regular and pumped storage, I realized that the penstocks (water pipes that lead the water from the reservoirs to the turbines) were all straight lines or L-shaped. Instead of the penstocks being straight lines or L-shaped curves, I thought replacing them with Brachistochrone curves (cycloids or parts of cycloids) would lead to more efficient resource use and higher power generation from the hydropower plants. I got results that showed not only a large increase in power generation from my newly shaped penstocks but also a reduction in production costs. In addition, different types of drainage systems like those in our homes, process plants and farms can benefit from the change from straight line and L-shaped curves to cycloids. This is a novel idea because I have found no work that has considered changing the shape of pipes like this with experimentation with water in the Brachistochrone Problem.

Devarshi Mukherji (9)
Project Title: Unraveling Alzheimer's Tau Aggregates using CyP40 – A Computational Study
Abstract: Many diseases that captivate our world occur due to misfolded proteins. Scientists are discovering that misfolded proteins are the main cause of many serious diseases that affect millions of individuals each year. In Alzheimer’s disease, proteins misfold and cause aggregates to form. These aggregates cause memory loss in these patients. In a healthy brain, there are microtubules inside of neurons that help with communication between neurons. These microtubules are held together by a protein called tau protein. In Alzheimer’s disease, the tau proteins become misfolded and detach from the microtubules. This causes tangles to form in the neurons, which not only stop communication with other neurons, but eventually kill the neurons. The tangles that form are aggregates or clumps of the tau protein. While proteins regularly misfold, chaperones help misfolded proteins to regain their proper folding states. Some chaperones such as cyclophilin 40 help to disaggregate misfolded protein clumps. Baker et. al. (2017) have found a chaperone, CyP40, that dissolves aggregates of tau in a mouse. This research has great potential in disaggregating the dangerous tangles in Alzheimer's patients. While recent studies are uncovering the importance of protein misfolding, advances in computational biology are allowing us to conduct some of the work computationally. In my project, I first analyzed computationally the interaction of CyP40 and the tau protein in a mouse. Using the PyRosetta and InteractiveRosetta software, I planned to analyze how the amino acids of the chaperone and the tau protein interact when they are docked. This analysis shows the portions of the two proteins that interact most strongly and allows us to computationally test some of the conjectures of the paper by Baker In addition, I plan to compare how the interaction changes when tau proteins of other organisms, such as humans, are considered. I will use NCBI’s BLAST to identify other similar proteins and examine how the CyP40 interacts with them.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at