LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md. -- America's next cancer research pioneer, space explorer or cyber security whiz could be one of the Maryland high-school students who presented their research at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

Thirty-three students convened March 8 as part of the 2013 Maryland JSHS Innovative STEM Conference.

Tucker Chapin, a Baltimore Polytechnic Institute junior who presented his work on computer modeling of dark matter, said he was particularly impressed by the complexity and detail of his fellow students' medical research.

"We're high-school students doing research that graduate students aren't doing," he said.

Months of work developing their scientific topics culminate with this annual event. The students compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting their research findings before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers.

Dr. Carl White, associate dean of Morgan State University's School of Engineering and director of Maryland JSHS, said the conference's goal is to introduce students from an array of backgrounds to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly known as STEM.

"These kids live in a technological world. It's so important that all students have an understanding of STEM -- how it works and impacts their present and future," White said.

Universities across the country administer 48 regional symposiums in collaboration with the research arm of the Department of Defense. Five finalists from each region will attend the National JSHS in Dayton, Ohio, May 1-5.

Sixteen U.S. Army scientists and engineers from Aberdeen Proving Ground served as judges for Maryland JSHS.

"The Army involvement has really been significant to us," White said. "The fact that the Army's scientists and engineers participate allows the kids to interact with real-life professionals. It's an opportunity for kids to grow and learn more about careers in STEM."

The Army Educational Outreach Program sponsors seven STEM outreach programs, including JSHS, for fourth- through 12th-graders.

Gabriel Grell, a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, plans to follow the career path of his father, a mathematician. He used his internship at NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute to delve into research on low redshift galaxies that are moving away from the Milky Way.

Grell's NASA mentor, Dr. Henry Ferguson, and graduate student Kuang-Han Huang helped turn his passion for astronomy into a research project at JSHS. He started his research last summer and hopes to complete it by next year's competition.

"It's been a great experience," Grell said. "I hope to see other people's presentations and compare them with mine. How does it differ? Can I boost the level of my presentation?"

After studying astrophysics and math at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University or Johns Hopkins University, Grell hopes to become a physicist.

Lt. Col. Wilbur Richburg, a systems team chairman with the Army Test and Evaluation Command at APG, judged environmental sciences. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry and a master's degree health services administration.

"The high school students were outstanding. It's an understatement that I'm impressed with the students," Richburg said. "Their science projects were much better than mine during my days in school.

"I'm telling students to stick with the sciences. Eventually there will be a correlation to what they do in everyday life. They will see a product they can attach their name to."

Studying science in college was an essential step to his career as an Army officer, Richburg said. His academic studies translated into real-world applications as a Soldier.

"Once I graduated and went into the chemical field, I had a chance to understand the effects of biological and chemical agents," he said. "Those building blocks helped me understand how the hard sciences were a foundation for me. If I didn't have hard sciences, I would have never understood those things during my 24 years in the military."

Vinay Siriam, a junior at Poolesville High School's Science, Math and Computer Science Magnet Program, completed his research in an area with national visibility -- Internet routing security. He hopes to attend MIT or Carnegie Mellon University to study computer science or electrical engineering for a career at Google or IBM.

"From the beginning of middle school, my magnet program offers accelerated courses in computer science. I got interested in computer science from an early age," he said. "Cyber security is very prominent, so I wanted to do something in that area."

Richburg emphasized that STEM subjects provide a solid foundation and are important for all students.

"STEM programs are for every student to get that foundation for the sciences. The sciences are invaluable," he said.