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Henderson teen named one of nation’s top young scientists

Updated October 20, 2022 - 7:04 am

Henderson 13-year-old Luka Nguyen came up with the idea for his award-winning science project after watching a news story about Lake Mead’s declining water levels.

It led him to do some research.

“My main inspiration behind the project was trying to mitigate climate change — obviously, something very big and controversial,” Luka told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

He learned about mangroves, a tree and shrub species found in tropical coastal areas, and their success absorbing carbon.

Luka’s project has landed him among the top middle school scientists in the nation. He’s one of 30 finalists in Broadcom MASTERS, a STEM competition put on by the nonprofit Society for Science.

“I was really excited,” said Luka, a student at the private Challenger School-Silverado in Las Vegas. “I thought I would never make it there.”

Luka will compete Oct. 28 to Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C., and will vie for a share of more than $100,000 in awards.

The 30 finalists were selected from among 1,807 applicants, and they’ll each receive a $500 award, according to a news release from the Society for Science.

Each finalist’s school will receive $1,000 for science, technology, engineering and math activities, and their science teacher will get a one-year classroom subscription to Science News magazine.

“These extraordinary students are looking for solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of the Society for Science and publisher of Science News, in the release. “I commend these young people for their hard work to make the world a better place.”

Luka’s science project

Luka’s project is “Which Mangroves (Mature Plants vs Immature Propagules) Thrive Better and Are Best Suited for Aerial Reforestation?”

“Luka’s experiment with three aquariums explored which form of young mangrove trees might work better for aerial reforestation projects,” according to an email from the Society for Science. “Immature seedlings with no roots or leaves yet fared better than more mature plants.”

Mangroves’ natural habitat is coastal, tropical climates near the equator, Luka said — not the Southern Nevada desert.

“Growing them here was a pain,” he said.

He tried to mimic their natural habitat by putting them in a bathroom with a humidifier and misting them with water multiple times a day.

Luka also built a prototype of a drone used to plant mangroves, calling it a “proof of concept.”

His father, Dr. Anthony Nguyen, said his son started working on his science project about a year ago.

Luka started by competing in a school science fair and progressed to the Beal Bank USA Southern Nevada Regional Science & Engineering Fair, held at UNLV.

He has gone to the regional science fair a few times and has been nominated twice for Broadcom, Nguyen said.

Last year, he made it into the top 300 nationwide with Broadcom, which was a “huge deal,” his father said. And this year, he did even better.

Sarah Broz, Luka’s former science teacher who’s now at Bishop Gorman High School, said he’s a “delightful student.”

“His innate curiosity about the world around him and his passion to understand or find a solution is immense,” Broz said in an email to the Review-Journal.

Luka used his knowledge of 3D printing to create “an immature propagule delivery device,” she said, noting that he not only analyzed his data but designed a viable solution.

“With this level of dedication and ability to apply sound scientific methodology, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with in the future,” Broz said.

Tinkering, swimming, scouting

Outside of his science pursuits, Luka enjoys nature, including hiking and being by the ocean. He’s also a swimmer with Life Time Nevada Swim Team and a Boy Scout.

And, he said, he loves “tinkering.” When he was younger, he would take toys, smash them to the ground and make something else using the parts.

Once, Nguyen had a computer that broke, and he wanted to get the hard drive out because it contained personal information. Luka broke down the computer for him.

“He was saying, ‘Dad, thank you. This is Christmas,’” Nguyen recalled.

He said one of the most wonderful purchases they made for Luka was a 3D printer a few years ago.

Luka uses a free web-based program called Tinkercad to find three-dimensional shapes. One of the first things he printed was a replica of a ship — the USS Zumwalt.

Nguyen, a medical oncologist, said he reminds his son how fortunate he is and that he needs to be humble, as well as find ways to share what he has with others.

Luka used some award money to buy a 3D printer. His ongoing project is to figure out how to get it to a school in Nigeria, which was founded by a woman with whom his family goes to church, and teach the students how to use it.

Nguyen said he’d call his son “a maker.”

“You don’t consume,” he said. “You create and share.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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