The De Silva family has three children, Sayumi, Mihin, and Senith who have diverse interests and hobbies, but also share many interests, one of which includes science and engineering research. The family lives in Sylva, NC, attending NC Schools, and participating in typical NC family activities, but also cherises their Sri Lankan heritage and culture.
Sayumi, the eldest, is currently in 10th grade attending Jackson County Early College. She loves to play a variety of musical instruments (flute, guitar, mandolin, piano, violin & saxophone) and plays in the Jr. Appalachian Musicians (JAM). She is grateful to her father for teaching her to play and often practices and plays at home with her family. She also plays at local and regional festivals including mountain heritage day and color fest. Sayumi also enjoys painting, drawing, and cooking, especially Sri Lankan dishes that she is working to learn from her mother.
Mihin, who is next in age, is in 7th grade at Cullowhee Valley School. Mihin likes sports, especially soccer, basketball, and tennis. Like his sister and brother he also enjoys music, playing the violin and flute and also singing. In addition to sports and singing, Mihin likes to garden in the backyard, growing both fruits and vegetables.
Senith, the youngest, is in 4th grade. His favorite subject is science, with a special interest in astronomy. Senith likes to play tennis, but admits that living in the mountains can make it hard to play with the ball flying away down slopes. He shares his family’s love for music, playing drums, mandolin, piano, keyboard, and dulcimer. His siblings mentioned that in addition to playing many instruments he likes to compose music and also sings.
It is clear that the De Silva family is well rounded, sharing common interests and also celebrating divergent talents and hobbies. The children all agree that their interest in science was sparked through their father’s passion. Sayumi remembers travelling with her parents and developing interest through visits to museum and animal exhibits. Mihin recalls being reluctant to pursue science in his younger years, but finding his joy for learning through science when his father encouraged him to participate in science fair in 3rd grade. Senith, being the youngest, had his curiosity piqued as he watched his family explore and learn. This common interest in the family led to science and engineering competitions being a regular event in the De Silva family. In reflecting on the fair experiences Sayumi felt that she learned a great deal about presenting and using feedback to improve her work from her participation. This skill is one that she believes will support her success in college. Mihin agreed with his sister about the fairs supporting his presentation skills and also mentioned that the research he did helped him to understand content he would later encounter in school, noting that his acetic testing project gave him a leg up in understanding pH. Senith’s experience inspired him to think about one day becoming an astronaut.
While the three siblings all enjoy science, their research has been as diverse as their interests. While Senith dreams of getting to walk on Mars one day, his research last year focused on the impact of light on seed growth. Mihin used sponges to focus on the impact of dust particulates in the air on the quality of soil and water. He allowed the sponges to collect dust from the air and submersed them in water that had zero turbidity, testing the sponges before and after. He was able to do this experiment once locally and also once while visiting Sri Lanka. He noted that location mattered a great deal as CO2 transmission is impacted by many things like roads and factories. Sayumi used her research to question the validity of a commercial boasting that deodorant without aluminum or baking soda was a higher quality product. In her exploration she was able to work in a lab with Dr. Indrani Bose at Western Carolina University to test three types of deodorant to see which was most effective at preventing bacteria growth. Her experiment found that Dove was the most effective at preventing bacteria growth and it had the most aluminum in it. Sayumi notes that during her background research for the project, she learned that there is a theory that aluminum can cause cancer, but more research in that area is needed to draw firm conclusions. She also noted that body type can still make you prefer a different type of deodorant, regardless of its effectiveness in preventing bacteria. Showing her wisdom, she acknowledged that marketing can use words like “better” to mean many things.
Each of the three De Silva families were able to compete in a regional science and engineering fair after being promoted from their school level fairs. In 4th grade Mihin placed 3rd in the region 8 competition and was promoted to the NC Science and Engineering Fair. In his 5th and 6th grade year Mihin placed 1st at the region 8 competition. These experiences were memorable for each child in different ways. Mihin recalls feeling that the questions from judges increased in complexity across the levels of competition and loved meeting other kids and learning about their work. Senith loved the scavenger hunt experience from the regional fair and also received a special award from Western Carolina University which included a book about chemistry experiments. Sayumi recalled the experience of engaging with other scientists, whether they were working professionals or other students. She really enjoyed hearing the guest speakers, fondly recalling one talk that focused on the science in superhero movies and how it is not always correct as presented. She also felt that it was really interesting to see how creative other students were with their research. One particular project stands out to her and while she doesn’t recall the research question, it was the sophisticated research design that left an impression. The project focused on mosquitos and the student had to build an enclosure to allow for them to be safely and accurately observed. She humbly mentions how much she learned from the other competitors and how each experience improved her work for the following year.
Sayumi, Mihin, and Senith are already thinking about the possibilities for the future. Senith hopes to do research in Chemistry and maybe even get to visit Mars or the moon. He wants to test the chemical composition of the rocks of celestial bodies and compare them to the rocks on earth. Mihin sees himself working as a computer engineer, leveraging the technology of today to guide the science of tomorrow. Sayumi is already working on an Associates Degree in Science at Jackson County Early College. She plans to move on to a four year school with a major in biology and minor in chemistry, but has not fully ruled out enrolling as a double major. After college, she wants to go into a research based career either as a professor or in the private sector.
When we asked the De Silva family what advice they would have for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering, they said,
“Everyone should try to be curious and ask questions about the natural world. If you see something, think about, ‘How can I improve this or impact this?’” -Sayumi
“When you talk to the judges, talk with confidence. If you have a question, go answer it. We are really lucky, we have a lot of resources, we can learn anything” -Mihin
“Be courageous and be brave, talk to the judges with confidence.” -Senith