One of our first speakers to be announced is Jesse Zhang. He recently graduated from Fairview High School in Boulder and will be attending Harvard University in the fall. His research is focused on atmospheric science, culminating in his final project studying Polar Vortex Weakening (PVW) and it’s root cause.  His work has led to two firsts – author publications in leading scientific journals, the Journal of Geophysical Research and AGU’s Space Weather, and success at prestigious national science fairs, such as the Intel Science Talent Search. We had a chance to talk to him a little more about his drive and inspiration behind the research: Zhang has always been interested in math and science, he loves that you can use logic to learn about how things are structured and obtain new knowledge through that. Beginning that the end of his Freshman year, he had the opportunity to start an internship at University of Colorado – Boulder in their Aerospace Engineering Department. This was how he got exposed to atmospheric science and where his research project began. Not being involved in something like this before, Zhang was able to grow his curiosity into something much bigger. “I really like research because I’m applying what I’m learning in the classroom and books to real world problems. And that’s really exciting.” His research surrounds the Polar Vortex, specifically the anomaly that is Polar Vortex Weakening (PVW).  When the Polar Vortex collapses, we see the effects as the severe snow storms we’ve been experiencing. No one knows what causes the weakening,  there have been theories but it’s very hard to find empirical evidence to support it. Based on Zhang’s research, he was able to introduce a hypothesis about root cause of the vortex weakening and to find strong evidence and a strong correlation to support it. Moving forward, Zhang says “this can be applied to existing forecast models to make our meteorological weather predictions more accurate. Because our forecast models aren’t all that perfect and there’s a lot of room for improvement.” “The best part of research is having this massive issue in front of you and you don’t really know what to do – there’s no set of instructions you follow. You apply everything you know and everything you’ve learned and you collaborate and discuss your ideas with other people, like my mentor, and then I throw all of that at the problem. That’s why it’s so interesting.“ As with so many things we are passionate about, there are always roadblocks, frustrations and questioning as to if you’re doing the right thing. Zhang is no different and looks up to several people who are an inspiration to him: “Mark Zuckerberg, for his incredible vision and pursuit of monumental goals. Manny Pacquiao, for his incessant optimism and constant upbeat spirit. And Kobe Bryant, for his tenacity, drive, and mental toughness; the ability to keep working in the face of challenges and defeat. These three individuals embody the traits that are most admirable and inspirational to me. Their stories always serve as motivation to my own life.” All the hard work has paid off, Zhang will be attending Harvard University in the fall and will be taking a break from his research to pursue another interest of his, computer science. He’ll also be taking a little more time for some other interests – spending time with friends, playing piano and basketball, and cheering on his favorite team, the Chicago Bulls. When asked about what he is most looking forward to at the big event, he talked about the audience: “By far, the audience. It’s a very large audience, probably larger than any I have ever talked to so I think that’s very exciting and a great way for me to spread what I know about my research and what I’ve done. [I look forward to] interacting with them afterwards to really get his idea out there.” This will be his first time attending a TEDxMileHigh event, and what better way to attend your first event than to speak at it. Register today and hear Atmospheric Scientist, Jesse Zhang’s talk. Tickets available here: