Student recognized for whirlwind achievement

La Cañada High School senior Alice Zhai received special recognition Tuesday from the La Cañada Unified Governing Board for a science project on hurricanes that was published in an international journal and earned her a $50,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute.

Her report, "Dependence of U.S. hurricane economic loss on maximum wind speed and storm size," was published June 13 in the journal Environmental Research Letters. It proposes another model by which hurricane damage might be predicted .

"We were just very, very proud of Alice, and we wanted to take the time tonight to recognize such a distinctive act of scholarship," LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette said before presenting Zhai with a certificate of recognition.

Davidson Fellows Scholarships are annually awarded to students under 18 who have created projects in various disciplines that have the potential to benefit society, according to the Davidson Institute.

La Cañada High science teacher Patty Compeau explained how Zhai's work, developed under the mentorship of JPL research scientist Jonathan Jiang, has drawn praise from many in the scientific community. Already her paper has been read by more than 395 people, she said.

"That's the mark of a truly inspirational paper, and I've read it twice," Compeau added.

In addition to receiving the Davidson scholarship, Zhai was awarded the "Study of Exceptional Talent" by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, an award granted to students who've scored at least a 700 on the math or verbal reasoning portion of the SAT before age 13.

Zhai is currently a member of NASA's Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience (INSPIRE), an online learning community. She's also been captain of her school math team, and is an avid dancer who specializes in Chinese dance.

In 2013, Zhai founded the La Cañada Performing Arts Group, which showcases youth performances at area senior centers.

"She's spectacular," Compeau said Tuesday. "And she's a really good student, just in case you were wondering."

Next month, Zhai will travel to Washington, D.C., to receive her Davidson Fellows Scholarship in a special ceremony.

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