By Friday, Emily Chen was back to taking English quizzes at Brownell-Talbot School.
But the previous week was a bit more exciting.
The senior traveled to Washington, D.C., to compete in one of the nation's top contests for high school scientists.
And she got to meet and shake the hand of the Cheerleader-in-Chief for science education, President Barack Obama.
Emily, 17, visited the White House on Tuesday as one of 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, billed as the nation's most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. Seven alumni of the long-running program, sponsored by Intel and the Society for Science and the Public, have gone on to become Nobel Laureates.
Meeting the president, Emily said, was surreal. And cool.
“He stressed science and education,” she said. “He's a good speaker, and he's really friendly.”
Obama was supportive of the young scientists' efforts.
“He really admired that we were all working for the same thing, the goal of bringing America back up to where we were before,” Emily said.
Her research paper was based on a project she worked on at the University of Nebraska Medical Center with Dr. Jialin Zheng, a professor of pharmacology and experimental neurosciences.
Emily focused on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Neuroprogenitor cells help the body repair itself, and Emily's project found that blocking a certain protein in the cells could force them to generate more neurons, or nerve cells, thus alleviating much of the damage associated with the diseases.
More than 1,700 students applied for the competition. The field first was narrowed to 300 semifinalists and, in January, to the 40 finalists.
Emily also was a regional finalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology last fall.
The daughter of John and Nancy Chen, Emily has not yet committed to a college but wants to continue to study neurosciences. She plays piano and tennis and serves as editor of Brownell's yearbook.
The latest trip wasn't her first to the nation's capital — she served as a Senate page in 2009. This visit included a scavenger hunt at the Smithsonian Institution, a meeting with Sen. Ben Nelson, R-Neb., and a science fair at the National Geographic Society Museum.
But meeting the president was hard to beat.
“He wants us to keep doing what we're doing,” Emily said. “And he's passionate about this.”
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