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Marvin Ridge High School senior takes science to the next level

Orion “Orry” Despo, a senior at Marvin Ridge High School, was a semifinalist in The Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), the nation's most prestigious pre-college science competition.

There is a 17-year-old scientist at Marvin Ridge High School who has brought national attention to his high school.

Orion “Orry” Despo, a senior, was a semifinalist in The Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), the nation's most prestigious pre-college science competition. He was one of 300 semifinalists chosen from among 1,712 entrants, representing 467 high schools in 42 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and two U.S. overseas schools.

Orry was one of only nine high school students selected from North Carolina and one of only two in the state not attending the state's magnet school. Seven students were from the North Carolina School of Science and Math, a statewide magnet school in Durham, while the other was from a public high school in Raleigh.

His mother, Stamie Despo, is an ardent supporter of her son’s scientific journey. So much so, that when he traveled to New York City for an internship in the Rockefeller University Summer Science Research Program, she and his brother, Alex, took an apartment in New Jersey to make the trek possible.

“He has put Marvin Ridge High School on the national science competition map for the second time this year,” she said. “Marvin Ridge will also receive an award and some money. More than anything, (his father) Aris and I are proud of the immense effort put forth by Orry, and his calm and steadfast demeanor.”

Stamie is referring to Orry also being a semi-finalist in the Siemens Math, Science and Technology Competition, which he entered just prior to the Intel STS.

In the latter, Orry was chosen for his entry “the technical A Novel Computational Algorithm for RNA-seq Transcript Annotation Applied to the Human Pathogen Vector Aedes aegypti.” In layman’s terms, Orry created a computer algorithm that would analyze genetic data and help identify new genes in the flies being studied.

The internship that led to Orry’s research was at Rockefeller University, working with Dr. Leslie Vosshall. Her work is the study of flies that carry yellow fever and the dengue virus, found in many undeveloped countries.

Entering the Intel STS contest was no easy feat. “I had to do a 20-page research paper,” he said. “It was like applying to college.”

His work designing this computer algorithm began at the beginning of his internship in July of 2012. He worked 10-hour days, six days a week. In the middle of August, he had to return to high school in Union County. Once back at school, he continued his work after school, many nights working into the wee hours of the morning.

Once the algorithm was completed, he decided to enter the contest and began work on the research paper required to enter the competition. He worked on that from September to October to meet the November contest deadline.

Although disappointed that he didn’t make the cut for a finalist, Orry said he was proud of being chosen a semi-finalist, thus winning $1,000 for himself and another $1,000 for his school.

“I plan to use the money toward the purchase of a laptop for school,” he said.

The internship in New York was his third. His first and second came with the help of his uncle, Dr. Cosmas Giallourakis, who lives in Boston and is also a scientist. Orry worked for two summers with Dr. Frederick Alt, an immunologist at Harvard Medical School.

For Alt, Orry did manual data analysis of types of protein and genomic binding patterns, as well as made computer programs to analyze genetic data.

As for his plans for the future, Orry said they are not yet set in stone. He has applied to several universities, including Harvard, MIT, Standford, Yale, Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Although he’s been accepted at UNC, he plans to wait for response from other universities to weigh his options.

As for his major, that too is still unwritten, but some areas of interest include computer science, engineering, applied math, economics and finance.

Whatever path Orry takes, however, his journey is sure to be a successful one.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jan 31, 2013 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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