A Gunn High School science club walked away with second place in a national cyber-security competition for students earlier this month.
Fifteen members of Gunn's Research Science & Invention Club went to Orlando, Fla. to compete in the finals of a contest that required problem-solving, extemporaneous public speaking and an essay on issues relating to physics, encryption and public policy on cybersecurity and privacy.
The competition was part of the TEAMS (Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science) sponsored by the Technology Student Association, a membership organization of 150,000 aspiring engineers and scientists.
Emily S. Wang, president of the Gunn club, which meets during school lunch hours, said team members spent hours "pre-studying" for the contest and "dedicated their holidays" to preparation.
Contestants learned a lot about collaboration, public speaking and problem solving, she said, adding, "I believe that these takeaways are what makes the experience valuable."
In the public speaking part of the contest, teams were handed a topic and given 15 minutes to prepare.
The eleventh- and twelfth-grade team was asked to address the question: Should social media companies be responsible for protecting private user security?
Ninth- and tenth-graders were asked to address the pros and cons of cloud computing.
In the problem-solving section, teams were given 49 problems relating to science, technology, engineering and math.
Wang said Gunn team members divided up the problems according to their interests.
"The advantages of having a diverse team were clear," she said. "Everybody applied their different strengths to solve different problems in their area of expertise.
"A student who had worked on designing an egg incubator could answer the humidity questions; a student who had taken advanced physics at school could solve the electronic circuit questions and a student who had a hobby for reading about encryption came up with a brilliant encryption design," she said.
In advance of the June 28-July 2 competition teams were asked to submit essays analyzing the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a cyber-security bill pending in Congress that would allow the government and third parties to access private user data, such as Facebook pages, to anticipate cyber attacks.
The Gunn essay, a collaborative effort of the team, concluded that "CISPA has positive intentions but will not truly benefit society," Wang said.
Unclear definitions and vague wording in the bill give the government too much power to decide which actions are considered harmful and the search of data without warrants would violate the Fourth Amendment, the team argued.
"Furthermore, since CISPA necessitates anonymous user data a filter must be involved, removing the benefits of real-time information-sharing," the students said.
"The time-consuming filtering and transcription of information prevents officials from readily tracking hackers and terminating future attacks, rendering CISPA ineffectual for combating cyber crimes," they said.
Among eleventh- and twelfth-graders, first place in the Orlando competition went to St. Mark's School of Texas; Gunn placed second, followed by Mission San Jose High School; A. Stevenson High School of Illinois; Archmere Academy of Delaware; Clayton High School of Missouri; Carroll High School of Ohio; Glassboro High School of New Jersey; Dilworth Glyndon High School of Minnesota and Eastern Technical High School of Maryland.
In addition to Wang, team members were Kelsey Chan, Marcus Goldszmidt, Justin Li, Matthew Li, Lauren Luo and Julia Qin.
Members of Gunn's ninth- and tenth-grade team, who placed 13th in the nation, were Andrew Huang, Andrew Ku, Annie Ku, George Lee, Michael Qu, Simon Rufer, Trevor Wang and Justin Yang.