You Could Help This ESA Senior Qualify For The Final Of An International Video Competition | Education

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Zombies are real, and by telling you how, Anil Cacodcar, senior at Acadiana Episcopal School, could earn up to $ 250,000 in college scholarships and a new lab for his school.

The zombies in question – badly folded prion protein – can be found inside humans and other animals, not hanging around human flesh and brain, explains Cacodcar in his video entry at Revolutionary junior challenge.

Zombie prions can attach and bend other prions badly, like a zombie bite turning a human into an undead, and those zombified prions can then clump together. This block, known as amyloid, can break down and disrupt brain function, the teenager says.

A total of 234 high school students in Louisiana, more than half of them in the New Orleans area, were named semifinalists of national merit.

The ESA senior is hoping his humorous and informative video will take him to the top of the seventh annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge competition. The global competition challenges teens ages 13-18 to create videos of up to 3 minutes that creatively break down a concept from the life sciences, physics or math.

Cacodcar found competition in the spring of 2020 as he searched for an outlet for his free time during the state’s first COVID-19 stay-at-home order. He said he was enamored with the creativity and ability of former participants to explain complex topics. While his stop-motion video explaining mRNA vaccines didn’t advance, he was captured by the premise of the contest.

“I think science communication is important because now more than ever we have seen that science and the public are very close,” the teenager said.

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Cacodcar said he was first exposed to the idea of ​​prions not in his science classes, but in discussion with his now retired French teacher. The educator could not donate blood because of United States Food and Drug Administration Restrictions on Donating Blood for people who resided in the UK and Europe from the 1980s to the early 2000s, among other related restrictions.

The reasoning is related to prions. Mad cow disease, a degenerative neurological disease in cows, is a prion disease and has a human counterpart; humans can contract the disease by ingesting meat from a sick cow, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA. Mad cow disease increased during this period in Europe.

The teenager immediately associated prions with zombies, one of his favorite sci-fi and horror film subgenres. When the idea clicked, he knew his gut instincts were a sign his analogy might resonate with audiences – a video with a dash more “Train to Busan,” his favorite zombie flick, than the chemistry documentary. class will be sure to entertain, he said.

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“I just like zombie movies. I immediately thought of them. I mean – COVID, deadly hornets, what’s the next thing that could happen? A zombie apocalypse, ”he said.

The 16-year-old used peer-reviewed research, video lectures and correspondence with scientists to establish the scientific basis for the video, then executed his plans by his 14-year-old brother to ensure his explanations and its graphics were easy to understand. grab.

“In order to communicate science effectively, you have to have something that is appealing to the eye and to the mind. You can’t spit out a bunch of complicated words that don’t make sense just to sound smart. The artistic element was something I don’t get to explore that often and I think it made me realize how truly interdisciplinary science really is, ”Cacodcar said.

The past year has been a roller coaster ride for 19-year-old Caroline Merryman.

Cacodcar estimates he spent 200 hours or more working on video, from scripting in January to filming, editing and animating for weeks in the summer. The teenager carefully planned his work, defining what part of the video he would work on each day, and spent hours learning Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects, and DaVinci Resolve techniques to use in his work. .

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While the work schedule was intensive, the 16-year-old kept the tone of his film focused on humor and engagement, using menacing lighting, sound effects, puns and shotgun shots. himself to tell the story.

“I think the best comedic elements are the unscripted ones. Planning jokes may have some appeal, but I think the comedic appeal comes from my video editing. I would say – I look hilarious in this frame, why not zoom in and take an unflattering photo of myself? I think it’s important to keep people engaged, ”Cacodcar said.

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Each video is judged on lighting, difficulty, creativity and engagement. The public has a say in who passes the final round through the popular vote, where people “vote” by giving their favorite semi-finalist video a like or other positive reaction on the Breakthrough Junior Challenge Facebook page. The deadline for the popular vote is Monday.

If Cacodcar wins, he will receive $ 250,000 in scholarships to the institution of his choice, as well as a prize of $ 50,000 for his nominated educator, Rachel Snider, professor of chemistry at ESA, and $ 100,000 to support a new science lab at the school.

“It would be huge,” Snider said of the potential prize money.

The ESA educator served as a sounding board for Cacodcar’s ideas, fostering his interest in the zombie angle and advising on the selection of reputable research sources.

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Snider saw the teenager grow from a freshman on the ESA Quiz Bowl team to a happy, fun, engaged and supportive senior who is very involved and leading on campus. The chemistry professor said that the message Cacodcar sends to his peers is more important than the prospect of winning: embrace creativity and pursue the things that are passionate about you.

It’s celebrating learning for the sake of learning, she said.

“I think one of the things that we lose with students as they get older is that they stop just being curious and learning things like they do in undergrad. school. When they’re in college, we can do these fun projects with them and side tangents. By the time you get into high school, it’s about the GPA and college admissions and the test score, ”the ESA educator said.

Cacodcar said the skills he had learned since joining ESA in eighth grade, such as patience, time management, perseverance, initiative, self-reliance and exploring his passions , helped make his entry a success.

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“It doesn’t matter if I win or not, I’ve done something with what ESA taught me and it’s invaluable,” he said.

The 16-year-old is still planning his next steps after graduation. He plans to pursue a college education and studies programs that take an interdisciplinary approach to science. Cacodcar said he enjoys seeing the different ways in which science interacts with the larger world.

For the teenager, the joy of science is that it is a process of seeking the truth with considerable freedom.

“There is a methodology for something, but there are always several paths to get somewhere and I think that’s a great part of science. There is no procedure every time to do something. It’s about taking initiatives and creating your own procedure or designing your own path to discover something or learn something, ”he said.


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