Egyptian student shortlisted in YouTube-NASA competition finale

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By Mai Shams El-Din

CAIRO: Egyptian high school student Amr Mohamed, 18, was named one of six regional competitors in the final stage of YouTube Science Lab competition challenging young scientists to design scientific experiments in space.

YouTube, Lenovo and Space Adventures, in cooperation with space agencies including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), launched the global competition to encourage youngsters from two age groups to design experiments that can be carried out in space.

Mohamed, an Alexandrian who is studying to complete the British IGCSE certificate, is one of three regional finalists in the 16-18 age bracket. His entry was a proposal to examine the behavior of the Zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus) in a microgravity environment.

In his age group, Mohamed is the only competitor from the Middle East, Africa, and Europe who reached the final stage.

“Jumping spiders don’t catch their prey using webs like other spiders, but they locate their prey and then jump to capture them,” Mohamed told Daily News Egypt Thursday.

“My theory is that jumping spiders won’t be able to catch their preys in space because they cannot jump in a zero-gravity environment,” he said.

A panel of six judges will choose two regional winners out of the six finalists in an awards ceremony on March 22, one winner from each age group.

Later this year the experiments proposed by the two winners will be conducted 250 miles above earth, aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which will be live-streamed on YouTube as part of a global event celebrating science and space.

YouTube Science Lab competition received 2,000 submissions from 80 countries across the world, which were screened down to a shortlist of 60 experiments. The final shortlist was reached following a global voting drive and the decision of a panel of judges, narrowing it down to only six finalists.

The experiment has to include a question, hypothesis, method, results and a presentation of all the above. Only 25 percent of the evaluation of the experiment is based on voting.

The remaining 75 percent is determined by the judging panel and include 25 percent for creativity, 25 for scientific knowledge and the same to presentation method.

Mohamed aspires to join one of the US’s prestigious universities and has already applied to MIT, Stanford and Columbia.

“I hope I can join one of these universities because there are no real scientific research programs in Egypt,” he said.

“There is a research program in MIT that enables undergraduates to choose a certain area of study and involve them in undergraduate research while being a research assistant, and it is fully funded,” he explained.

Mohamed also believes that the experience of studying abroad will help him become more independent.

He said that if he is not accepted overseas, he will apply for a science program in a public university, but stipulates that it should have “a human face” like health care.

“I cannot imagine living with machines for the rest of my life,” he said.

But although Mohamed doesn’t like machines, he won two silver medals in programming in the Egyptian Olympiad for Informatics.

The aspiring scientist was also involved in politics, joining nationwide protests on Jan. 28, 2011 which witnessed deadly clashes between peaceful protesters and police.

“I was watching the protests in the balcony in Jan. 28 when one of the protesters provoked me and said ‘Rise Egyptian! Why you are silent? Did you get your rights?’. I joined the protest right away, because my rights were not respected,” he recalled.

More recently, he joined protests in front of the Northern Military District in Alexandria following the Feb. 1 Port Said football massacre.

Mohamed is eldest of two sisters and one brother, and said he enjoys the control and influence the eldest brother has, but is aware that it is a huge responsibility.

“I’m the oldest and I have to set the example for the rest.”

Spending time on Play Station isn’t always the best influence, he said, smiling.




Amr Mohamed’s proposal was to examine the behavior of the Zebra jumping spider (salticus scenicus) in a microgravity environment.



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