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July 2004

Japanese Schoolgirl Wins Science Essay Prize

Tsumura Kana
Tsumura Kana

Tsumura Kana recently became the first Japanese to win a prize in a prestigious international science essay contest for high school students. The competition, called the First Step to Nobel Prize in Physics, is organized by the Institute of Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, and was being held for the twelfth time. Kana's essay was among the six selected for prizes out of the 116 submitted for the contest from around the world.

Kana, who was in her third year at Koishikawa High School (site is Japanese only) in Tokyo when she wrote her essay, chose the science-oriented course at school, and one of her teachers, Mr. Kamijo Takashi, recommended that she tackle the research theme "Why Does a Metal Become So Hot in the Sunlight?" The hypothesis for her project said: "Why does metal become hot even though it is supposed to reflect sunlight? Perhaps the answer is that, although the metal's reflection of sunlight means that it absorbs little heat, some heat remains inside the metal because it also emits little heat." She spent six months testing this hypothesis.

Each experiment took three hours in a totally closed classroom. (Tokyo Metropolitan Koishikawa Senior High School)

Kana chose to use aluminum in her experiments because it is easy to get data from this metal. In fact, she used aluminum that she bought from a variety store! She borrowed an electronic thermometer from the chemistry classroom each time she did an experiment. And as she made the other materials by hand using boards left over from the school festival, her experiments cost hardly anything at all.

Kana has been interested in science and English since she was a child, but this was the first time she had written a science essay in English. Mr. Kamijo, who wrote a lot of English essays in graduate school, gave Kana this advice: "In the introduction, get the judges' attention by writing something that will make them laugh." After a great deal of hard work, Kana managed to write all 25 pages of her report in English, including the tables and formulae.

Kana with Mr. Kamijo
Kana with Mr. Kamijo

Kana is now a first-year student in Keio University's Faculty of Science and Technology. As part of her prize, she is scheduled to spend one month studying at the Polish Academy of Sciences in the autumn of 2004. The academy will pay for the costs of her stay, but she has to pay her own travel expenses. Some of these will be covered by a scholarship from her high school's alumni association, and Kana is saving up the rest by working part-time in a convenience store.

Kana will continue the experiments relating to her prize-winning essay for the first two weeks of her time in Poland, and for the latter two weeks, she will work on a research theme given to her by the academy. "I will have to communicate with the researchers and other prizewinners in English, so I am studying extra-hard to improve my language skills," she says. Kana lives just five minutes' walk from her former high school, and as four current students have already said they want to enter this year's essay contest, she often visits the school to help them with their work. Kana seems to have already taken her first step as a scientist.

NOTICE: Since October 9, 2003, Japanese names in Kids Web Japan have been written in their original order: surname first.

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