Michelle Xu, an eighth grader at Pioneer Middle School in Tustin, took part in Orange County's Science and Engineering Fair earlier this April, where she took home the Junior Sweepstakes Award, the top prize in the junior division of the Fair.

Michelle was also the first place recipient in the junior Mathematics competition for creating a mathematical model for leaf counting for carbon sequestration, the process of long term storage and capture of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“I chose to do my project on leaf counts and carbon sequestration because there’s too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It’s harmful to the environment and I wanted to find a way to help repair the damage,” said Michelle. “By knowing the leaf counts of particular tree species, we can figure out how much carbon dioxide these species can absorb through photosynthesis.

Michelle started off her project by conducting research on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Rule of the Trees as a point of reference to base her mathematical model on while also researching computer simulated trees.

“It’s a universal rule for trees which I extended and then formed a model based off his tree rule,” said Michelle.

She then conducted a series of experiments where she would hand count the number of leaves on a small tree and then use her model to calculate an estimate for the same number in order to test for accuracy.

“I would hand count for smaller trees to find out how many leaves they had, but for larger trees, I used a program called Pythagoras Tree to simulate leaf counts,” said Michelle.

On the days of the OC Science and Engineering Fair, Michelle set up her project displays and logs at her station and was interviewed by a panel of judges who were overseeing the Fair.

Michelle said, “I was a little nervous when I was getting interviewed by the judges, but because I’m in an afterschool debate program at school, the skills I learned there helped me present my project and answer all of their questions.”

Michelle previously took part in her school’s Science Olympiad, where she says she developed her love for science. Through this program, she was able to learn about various scientific fields and their applications.

“I had a lot of fun learning about how our world today works; in the Olympiad, I was able to learn about forestry, astronomy, physics, and earth sciences. It was really interesting and I loved it. I hope to go into science later on in my life,” said Michelle.

In addition to being a science enthusiast, Michelle is involved in a multitude of extracurricular activities. She plays the piano and violin, and is on her school’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams. She participates in hurdles and 100-meter dash events. In her free time, Michelle enjoys drawing and playing her musical instruments.