Cancer research scores big at Intel ISEF

Teens take home top prizes at premier high school Science and Engineering Fair

Intel ISEF 2014 top winners (left to right) Shannon Lee, Lennart Kleinwort and Nathan Han.


LOS ANGELES — An innovative statistical analysis of cancer-promoting genes earned a 15-year-old the top prize — and $75,000 — at the world’s premier high school science and engineering competition. Nathan Han of Boston claimed first prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2014 on May 16.

“Intel believes that young people are the key to innovation. And we hope that these winners inspire more students to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math,” says Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation.

Han earned his award for studying mutations in a gene associated with breast cancer. He surveyed public health databases, gathering data on mutations that affect the structure of a protein that normally repairs cell damage and stifles tumor growth. By analyzing how different mutations change the protein’s structure, Han identified which ones are most likely to boost cancer risk.

Two other young researchers each received Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards of $50,000. Lennart Kleinwort, 15, of Würzburg, Germany, won for developing a mathematics app for smartphones and electronic tablets. App users can draw and move shapes around, changing sizes and proportions. Or users can enter data and instruct the app to plot the most accurate fit. The software can handle everything from simple algebra to more complex math, such as calculus.

Shannon Lee, 17, of Singapore claimed the other $50,000 prize for developing an inexpensive electrode material for some types of batteries. Those batteries now typically include an electrode made from a costly mix of platinum and carbon. Lee made the material by heating an eggplant at a high temperature until it turned into charcoal. Then she soaked the highly porous carbon in potassium hydroxide to increase the surface area of the material. That provided more places for chemical reactions to occur, she explains. The change could allow engineers to get the same performance found in today’s batteries from a smaller and lower-voltage device.

Seventeen “best of category” awards were given, including to Han, Kleinwort and Lee in each of their fields. The winners were chosen from more than 1,780 finalists.

“In congratulating Nathan, Lennart and Shannon, we join with Intel in seeing great hope in their research and that of all of our Intel ISEF finalists,” says Rick Bates, the interim CEO of Society for Science & the Public, which manages the competition and publishes Science News

Category winners

In addition to the top three winners, 14 other Intel ISEF finalists received “best of category” awards, each worth $5,000.

ANIMAL SCIENCES  Abhishek Verma,15, and Daksh Dua, 16, of Delhi, India, for showing that an extract from a common shrub helps treat giardiasis.

BEHAVIORAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCES  Michelle Marquez, 15, of Midlothian, Va., for finding that listening to simple music and sounds triggers positive emotions.

BIOCHEMISTRY  Ken Aizawa, 17, of Jericho, N.Y., for analyzing the role of two proteins in the growth of cancer cells.

CELLULAR AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY  Joshua Meier, 18, of Teaneck, N.J., for identifying genes linked with early aging of stem cells.

CHEMISTRY  Tai Hei Chan,18, andEr Hai Fang,17, of Hong Kong, for a fast, cheap test for chronic renal failure.

COMPUTER SCIENCE  Yue Yao,17, of Shanghai, for using three colors of light transmitted over fiber-optic cables as the basis for new computing techniques.

EARTH SCIENCE  Yu-Hsin Chen,17, of Taipei, Taiwan, for finding that typhoons in the western North Pacific have increased in intensity by about 10 percent in the last 20 years.

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