Formula for Success Leads from the Ice Rink to the White House

As any figure skater will tell you, there’s a lot of science behind the jumps.

But for Tampa Bay Skating Academy figure skater Elizabeth Corn, it’s the subject of science that had her jumping … for joy.

The 14-year-old recently found out she was a finalist in the 2013

Elizabeth Corn holds the trophy
she received for her science
project on nanoparticles.

Broadcom MASTERS national STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competition – a distinction that earned her an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C., last month, and a meeting with President Obama. 

The night she learned she was one of 30 finalists out of 300 semi-finalists to make the trip, she relied on some of those figure skating skills. 

“I was jumping around the entire night,” Elizabeth says. “I couldn’t believe it! It’s not like you get to go to Washington D.C., for the first time and meet the president and shake his hand. It was really cool!”

Skating since she was about 7 years old, Elizabeth applied the discipline she learned from her sport to her science project, titled, “The Effects of Nanoparticle Size on the Antibacterial Effects of Zinc Oxide (ZnO) on E. Coli Bacteria.”

She visited Washington D.C., from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2, 2013, to showcase her project at the National Geographic Society, where she and the other finalists shared their knowledge with a panel of world-renowned scientists and engineers. 

Elizabeth stands in front of the board
outlining her science experiment.

Prior to that, Elizabeth’s project won first place in the microbiology category, and Best of Fair, at the Hillsborough County Regional STEM Fair. Her project also won first place at the State of Florida Science and Engineering Fair. 

Elizabeth’s interest in scientific research comes from having family members who have been affected by cancer. Because nanoparticles are used in the treatment of cancer, Elizabeth became interested in how the extremely small particles can help aid in the treatment of the disease. 

Through her experiment, she was able to show that the smaller the nanoparticle, the higher percentage of effective treatment for cancer. 

“I found that if you decreased the size of the nanoparticle, the treatment could be increased by 35 percent,” she explains.

Elizabeth designed her own experiments to prove her hypothesis, but finding a laboratory to conduct her research wasn’t easy. She finally got an offer to work in the research laboratory at Illinois State University. She says she learned so much. She’s grateful she had the chance to work with Dr. R. K. Jayaswal, professor of microbiology and director of biotechnology, molecular and cellular biology at the university. 

Elizabeth was among thousands of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from all around the country who participated in the science and engineering competition. When she made the 300 semi-finalist cut, she never imagined she would become a finalist.

“I always thought I had a good project but when I looked at all the others, I didn’t think I’d make it,” she says. “But my mom kept telling me, ‘there’s always a chance.'”

The Tampa resident also had a chance in Washington D.C., to spend more time with the president than expected. 

She and the other finalists visited the White House the day before the government shutdown on Oct. 1. She says staff members were telling President Obama he only had five minutes to spend with them because he had a speech to give. But he spent about 20 minutes with them and took them on a tour of the Oval office. 

“He really took a lot of time out to talk to us,” she says, adding the finalists even got to take a picture with the president. 

The third annual Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) competition seeks to inspire middle school students to put their science and engineering ideas and passions into action. And Elizabeth, who is now in ninth grade at Berkeley Preparatory School but completed her project when she was in eighth grade at Davidsen Middle School, plans to do just that. She wants to be a medical researcher when she grows up. 

But Elizabeth also has some ambitious skating goals, too. A USFS

Elizabeth on the ice at Tampa Bay
Skating Academy in Oldsmar.

(United States Figure Skating) juvenile-level skater and an ISI (Ice Skating Institute) Freestyle 6-level skater, she wants to continue to hone her skills on the ice. 

“I want to compete in figure skating until I’m a senior,” she says. “It would be so cool to land a double axel, even if it’s two or three years from now. It would be really awesome.”

Elizabeth says she loves the feeling she gets when she lands a hard jump. 

“It’s amazing,” she says. “It’s such a relief. You feel like you’ll never be able to do it and then it happens.”

Elizabeth with Coach Jim.

Jim Millns, Elizabeth’s figure skating coach for about seven years, admires how she pursues her passions on and off the ice. 

“Elizabeth is one of the kids who has always been fun to work with, always pleasant, and takes everything in stride.”