The New Martian: Josh Piecyk

By Renner Kwittken

When Mrs. Greenwald was asked about Josh Piecyk, a junior at Byram Hills High School, she responded, “he has such an insightful way of looking at the world and clearly is able to see the humor in most life situations. That’s a real gift that will take him far.” Josh’s Science Research topic doesn’t look at this world however. The official name of Josh’s topic is, “Changes in albedo of recurring slope lineae over time on the Martian surface.” In layman terms, he is studying flowing water on Mars.

Specifically, Josh looks at images of reflecting light on Mars’s surface to indicate that running water is there. But as everything else in science, it’s more complicated than that. Examining and interpreting the data given by a software is complex; it required Josh to demonstrate an abundance of patience to learn and understand his topic in order to be proficient in it. The fruits of his labor became evident, Mrs. Greenwald told it as such, “When he showed me the first crystal clear images of Mars that he was using for his research, Josh and I sat there in silence for a moment staring at the screen in awe of what we were viewing.” Josh is hoping to find out how the rivers formed and where the water is coming from. This research is important because according to Josh he is studying “a specific geographic feature on Mars that is the only known example of flowing water outside of Earth”

As a sophomore, Josh struggled to find a topic. He looked into many varying fields of study such as astrophysics, electronics, arduino, and hyperspectral imaging. He also tried to focus his topic around a mentor, rather than finding a topic and then a mentor that matches that specific topic. Fortunately, he acquired his top choice for a mentor, Dr. Lujendra Ojha. Dr. Ojha works in the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins, and he recently acquired his PhD. Josh describes him as young and down-to-earth, which makes him an excellent mentor.

The Science Research program has greatly helped Josh grow as a student. Mrs. Greenwald even said jokingly, “Physically, he has probably grown more than any science research student in the program. He is very, very tall. At least compared to me. Josh has also made tremendous leaps as a student.” Josh knew his weaknesses going into the program, namely his disorganization and susceptibility to distractions. Mrs. Greenwald had many kind words about his progress, saying how he, “quickly identifies where he is faltering and is independently capable of developing thorough plans to keep him on track. We are both very proud of the progression he has made. I was not certain that he would be highly successful when I observed him struggling to meet deadlines as a sophomore. Now he is on schedule and will clearly be one of big success stories next year as a senior.” Josh is also grateful for the leaps he has made as a student, citing how, “It forced me to become organized and it really helped me with making calendars and spacing out my work. Also, it taught me to back up all of my work in multiple ways.”

As a reward for his growth and progress, Josh is part of the Fab 5 committee. This is a student driven committee of five science research students, who organize and relegate students to make the Science Research Symposium run smoothly. He also participates in the second grade club, which teaches science lessons to second graders and then middle schoolers, as well as the Science Olympiad team, which allows students to compete against each other and test their skills in science.

Right now, Josh is looking forward to the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition next Fall, hoping to earn the title of a semifinalist. Mrs. Greenwald has high hopes for Josh. She says, “Josh is becoming a real leader in our program. He is reaching out to younger students who may be faltering and sharing his experience with them. That ability to keep our program growing is so vital and I am proud of what he is doing.”