Kyong siblings win International NASA competition

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By Thomas and Daniel Kyong

Siblings Thomas and Daniel Kyong are part of the team that won first place in the International NASA OPSPARC Research Competition. Photo by Sujin Kyong.

Coronado’s very own brothers Thomas Kyong, junior, Daniel Kyong, freshman, and Jimin Lee, junior, from Cypress High, California successfully defeated other top 1,500 competitors to secure the first place spot in this year’s International NASA OPSPARC (Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge). They have been invited to attend NASA workshops at the Goddard Space Flight Center as well as the NASA OPSPARC Awards Ceremony at Washington D.C from Wednesday, June 13 to Thursday, June 14.

“When I heard the news, I was speechless,” Thomas said. “I heard about [the award] during a Johns Hopkins Presentation, so while maintaining a cringey poker face, I had to silently celebrate by myself inside my head. Winning this competition was an exuberant way to the start of my summer.”

The competition is an intense event for young students to engage in science and to create a spinoff technology that could be implemented in the future. The project could be based on any technological or scientific idea and was due at the end of March. The pool was tough, consisting of over 1,500 students from the U.S and Canada.

“I am so happy,” Lee said. “I am glad to be given such a great opportunity to let others know what I am passionate about finding a solution to. I am also grateful to be given the chance to reveal that I am a girl to all the people online who thought I was a boy.”

After selecting the top 10 finalists in April, NASA’s judge panel announced the top three winners on Friday, May 18. As the first prize team, the Kyongs received a $4,000 scholarship and will attend the NASA Space Flight Conference, where they will be going behind the scenes of NASA and meet some of The Goddard School‘s top scientists, engineers, and technologists. Additionally, the students will present their project at NASA’s awards ceremony. The team plans on visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Holocaust Museum, Capitol Building, and several other sites — including colleges — during their trip.

“I am definitely excited to see what the east coast is like, how NASA works behind-the-scenes, and the history of the United States,” Daniel said. “The experience gained from NASA OPSPARC will be cherished forever — what a great way to end my freshman year.”

The students had to video call weekly and make plans through digital documents; the boys never met Lee in person during the competition. After several weeks of deciding what spinoff technology to create, the brothers and Lee focused their project on algae, which is quite excessive in many humid environments. The team wanted to extract algae safely to avoid excess pollution within the environment. The team plans to focus on extracting nutrients from the plant species, so scientists can implement these nutrients in livestock feed, astronomical products such as space food, and vitamin pills. The three students were shocked and exuberant to hear the wonderful news, and they are honored that their project has the potential to make a difference in their community.

“I can’t wait to see how far our ideas go, and I can’t wait to personally meet NASA and see how they work, Thomas said. “Most importantly, I can’t wait to spend the $4,000 on food.”