Student Profile:

Mikhail Khoury, 10th grade

Atlanta International School

Mikhail Khoury

At the opening of the recent exhibit of works by Leonardo de Vinci, Mikhail Khoury saw something in a High Museum of Art gift shop that he liked.

It was a small journal. It was nicely bound and a copy of a Leonardo drawing of a wing was etched on the cover.

Mikhail, who’s 15, bought the journal and took it home. It seemed just the thing he needed to consolidate the notes and drawings he’d accumulated from a little personal physics project he’d been working on for the past three years.

Somehow, this all seems prophetic.

Mikhail’s journal, filled with his own hand-written notes and careful drawings recreating the work he’d done on the project, came in fairly handy not long after he bought it.

The journal became the centerpiece of a presentation that won the 10th grader first prize in a Leonardo da Vinci scholarship competition offered to students at the Atlanta International School by the Italy Atlanta Foundation, a non-profit group that works to share the culture and traditions of Italy.

“It was a da Vinci competition,” Mikhail said recently. When he bought the journal, “I didn’t even know about the da Vinci competition.”

His prize? A trip to Italy, where he‘ll have a chance to view more of Leonardo‘s work up close. Runner-up Nikolas Wren, who did a project on controlling mosquitoes, also won a trip to Italy.

“It’s great,” Mikhail said. “The objective is to study the history of art.”

But it was science that got him there. Or maybe tinkering. The project that had absorbed Mikhail’s attention for three years involved efforts to develop an electric motor that could power a car.

It didn’t surprise his mom that he spent three years trying to come up with a workable motor design. Mikhail‘s like that. “When I tell him something is not going to work, he’ll research it and prove I’m wrong,” Angela Khoury said.

His work impressed Atlanta International School Headmaster Kevin Glass, who found the Leonardo-Mikhail notebook connection too coincidental not to notice. Leonardo, after all, famously kept notebooks of everything he did, filling them with drawings and scribbling down his ideas. “What was great with Mikhail is he did the same sort of drawing in his notebook,” Glass said.

Mikhail’s notion of designing a motor actually started with the car. “I’ve always loved cars,” he said. “Throughout middle school, I’d always draw cars.”

But the vehicle faded into the background as Mikhail grew more interested in the problem of the motor. He started thinking about magnets. Then he thought about electromagnets. Soon he was drawing configurations of wire and wood and nails and gears that he could use to make a model of his motor. The real thing, if he ever builds it, will be made of sturdier stuff.

It wasn’t easy. At one point a buddy pointed out he seemed to be trying to make a perpetual motion machine, a scientific impossibility. He dropped that idea.

When he heard about the da Vinci scholarship competition being offered to students at his school in connection with the High’s exhibit, he decided to see how his electric motor would fare. He made a model of his motor, filled three presentation boards with drawings and notes and then, of course, added his journal to the display.

Professors from Georgia Tech judged his project, he said. “They found no major flaws in it,” he said. “They criticized it, but they didn’t say, ‘This won’t work.’”

The presentation itself was a little overwhelming, he admits now. He’d never before made a formal presentation about anything to people he didn’t know. “Never in front of a jury,” he said. “The worst case [before] was in front of my class.”

But he pulled it off. And, coincidentally, that presentation to the competition judges came on the last day of the da Vinci exhibition at the High.

“I actually went the first day and last day,” he said. “Two times I saw it.”

What’s Next:

Mikhail says he probably hasn’t finished working on the electric motor. It’s sort of a hobby now. Besides, he’ll have his first classroom introduction to electromagnets in physics next spring.

–Joe Earle