Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill teen techs out at ‘Future Science’ Congress

A love of science and technology and a dedication to leadership and academic achievement allowed Fort Mill High School junior Michael Branning to hear from some of the world’s leading scientific experts and prodigies.

Branning, 16, was invited to attend the Congress of Future Science and Technology leaders in Boston this summer. He is a member of the Fort Mill High School JROTC.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, science Director of the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists, nominated Branning to represent Fort Mill High School at the honors-only Congress for students passionate about science, technology, engineering or mathematics, Branning said.

“It’s a great honor,” he said.

Sponsored by the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists, the three-day Congress gave Branning and other students from across the country a chance to hear from professionals on leading scientific research.

“It was impressive how many of them were as young as they are,” he said.

Speakers included Jack Andraka, 18, who earned the 2012 grand prize title of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the largest pre-college science research competition, at 15 years old, according to the Congress website. Andraka developed a test for pancreatic cancer that was faster, less expensive and 100 times more sensitive than current diagnostic tests. He graduates high school this year.

Branning said Andraka told them that he was turned down by all but one of the labs he took his test to, sharing a lesson on perseverance.

“Don’t let your dreams be limited by what people tell you,” Branning said. “People won’t accept something unless it’s accepted.”

Branning said seeing the young professionals also proved that age is not a factor when it comes to making a difference.

“You don’t need to have a college education to reinvent the world,” Branning said he heard at the congress.

Attendees also heard from Aldrin, who performed the first successful spacewalk in 1966, was a member of the Apollo 11 crew with Neil Armstrong and holds multiple patents.

“It’s an awesome experience to get to see one of my personal heroes,” Branning said.

Combining his love of computer technology and ROTC, Branning was also invited to attend the Marine Corps JROTC Cyber Security Camp July 5-12 at the Citadel in Charleston.

The camp, which is in its third year, brings together cyber security experts and leaders from across the country to speak with select Marine Corps JROTC Cadets, according to a letter sent to Fort Mill High School senior Marine instructor Lt. Col. Rod Robinson.

The Marine Corps JROTC has held cyber and STEM camps for years to develop an interest in the fields of cyber security, robotics and all aspects of STEM, according to the letter.

During the eight-day cyber camp, Branning said he attended a range of in-depth classes and training on robotics, networking, cyber security and networking. He also joined the other cadets in physical fitness training, including drill and marksmanship, and was given leadership positions.

The camp was a chance for Branning to combine his passions.

“I really like toying around with computers and I love ROTC,” he said.

The camp aimed to prepare the JROTC cadets to lead CyberPatriot, the Air Force Association’s National Youth Cyber Education Program, teams at their high schools, according to the letter. Camp speakers included Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch, National Commissioner of CyberPatriot.

Branning said he learned how to program a robot and about the language of robotics.

“It is purely logic,” he said. “It has to make perfect logical sense or else it won’t work.”

One class Branning attended also challenged the cadets to learn the Linux Operating System and find vulnerabilities in its Cyber Security. Branning said his team was successful.

“It’s one of the hardest operating systems to enter, but mastery of it is easy,” he said.

The downside to Linux, Branning said, is that while it is easy to make commands within the system, those commands take effect immediately, whether they were intentional or not.

“It’s very easy to destroy your system,” he said.

Branning said the cadets also learned about password security and common algorithms used to crack passwords.

As part of the CyberPatriot program, the camp culminated in the CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, in which the cadets were broken into teams, given virtual images representing operating systems and tasked with identifying cyber security vulnerabilities in the images, according to the CyberPatriot website. They had six hours to do so while strengthening the system’s security and without destroying its critical services.

The top teams in the state and region earn a trip to Baltimore for the National Finals Competition, where they will compete for national recognition and scholarship money, according to the CyberPatriot website.

Branning’s team did not win, but he said the camp taught them about the growing field of cyber security, something Branning is considering as a possible career.

Amanda Harris: amanda.d.phipps@gmail.com, @amanda_d_harris

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