The Weekly Newsmagazine of Science
Volume 155, Number 20 (May 15, 1999)
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By P. Weiss
Studies of a cell-killing weapon that oozes out of tumors and of a way to foil the AIDS virus won two of the three top awards at the 1999 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. A project by a young mathematician who proved five theorems also garnered highest honors.
"I've known many people who died of cancer, so I wondered why our bodies can't fight against cancer," says Nisha Nagarkatti, 17, of Blacksburg, Va., explaining why she pursued her cancer research. The work has now netted her a $40,000, 4-year college scholarship.
Also receiving $40,000 scholarships are Feng Zhang, 17, of Des Moines, Iowa, for his AIDS-related investigation and Jennifer Pelka, 16, of Orlando, Fla., for her mathematics project, which is relevant to deciphering the human genome. In all, 753 projects won shares of the more than $2 million in travel, scholarships, and cash awards.
This year's fair attracted 1,179 9th-to-12th-grade winners of regional competitions in about 40 nations. The contest ran May 28 in Philadelphia, the scene of the first such fair 50 years ago. Only 30 students competed in 1949.
Increasing global communication among students through the Internet may help explain the fair's growing international popularity and rising level of project sophistication, says Eugene S. Meieran, a contest judge and scientist at Intel Corp. in Chandler, Ariz. Intel is the major funder of the fair, which is coordinated by Science Service, publisher of Science News.
Besides immersing themselves in serious science and rubbing elbows with Nobel laureates, contestants socialized, played computer games, and scarfed down a 215-foot-long dessertbilled as the world's largest strawberry shortcakehonoring the fair's 50th birthday.
A second chance to hobnob with Nobel laureates awaits Nagarkatti and James Lawler, 16, of Greenwich, Conn. They were awarded trips to the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm this December. Lawler studied heat-generating reactions of gases. He had won a $40,000 scholarship in the 1998 fair (SN: 5/23/98, p. 327).
Other students destined to travel include Nicole Young of Palm Bay, Fla., and Summer Acevedo of Grant, Fla., whose project on cancer diagnosis won them a trip to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Greece. Bound for Brazil are John Keefner of Black Hawk, S.D., and Mark Hanhardt of Sturgis, S.D., who jointly studied superconductors and will visit the International Fair in South America.
Judges also awarded 14 best-of-category honors, worth $5,000 each, to the top winners of $3,000 first-place prizes. In behavioral and social sciences, the accolades went to Derek Zanutto of Fresno, Calif., for a study of a chemical's effect on planarian behavior. In biochemistry, Zhang won for his AIDS-related research; in botany, John Korman of Greer, S.C., for a plant-tumor investigation; in chemistry, Lawler; in computer science, Gabor Bernath of Budapest, for devising a three-dimensional scanner; in Earth and space sciences, Jay Michaels of Cocoa, Fla., for a study of rotating winds linked to severe weather; in engineering, Jonathan Condit of Lake Charles, La., for a low-cost device to detect irregular atrial rhythm; and in environmental sciences, Sirisha Kalicheti of Chantilly, Va., for examining metal-ion contamination in fish.
Other best-of-category winners were, in gerontology, Eric Stern of Great Neck, N.Y., for Alzheimer's disease research; in mathematics, Matthew Ong of Cheyenne, Wyo., for work on group theory; in medicine and health, Kapualokelanipomaika'I Katherine Medeiros of Honolulu for exploring a possible anti- cancer agent in papaya seeds; in microbiology, Jeremy Farris of Bonaire, Ga., for research on biological control of the kudzu vine; in physics, Han-Chih Chang of Chang-Hwa City, Taiwan, for a study of magnetic fluids; in zoology, AmyLyn Woolley of Bend, Ore., for shrimp research; and for a team project, Young and Acevedo.
From Science News, Vol. 155, No. 20, May 15, 1999, p. 311. Copyright © 1999, Science Service.
Copyright © 1999 Science Service