Car-crazy kid wins middle school science competition

First place at Broadcom MASTERS goes to 14-year-old who studied automotive aerodynamics

WASHINGTON — After cruising through days of engineering enigmas, science stumpers and mathematical mysteries, a 14-year-old car aficionado earned the top award at the second annual Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars, or MASTERS, competition. Eighth-grader Raymond Gilmartin from South Pasadena, Calif., was honored at an October 2 gala with an educational award of $25,000 provided by the Samueli Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Corona del Mar, Calif., started by Broadcom founder Henry Samueli.

Eighth-grader Raymond Gilmartin received the top prize in this year’s Broadcom MASTERS competition. On hand to congratulate him were (from left) Samueli Foundation cofounders Henry and Susan Samueli; Society for Science and the Public president Elizabeth Marincola; Broadcom president Scott McGregor; and Broadcom Foundation executive director Paula Golden. Broadcom MASTERS, IML Photography

“Broadcom is a company about science and innovation,” said Scott McGregor, Broadcom Corp. chief executive officer and president of Broadcom Foundation, which funds the competition. “This is a way to encourage and inspire the innovators of the future.”

Being named the top winner left Gilmartin “excited and overwhelmed,” he said. Participating in the competition has been “the greatest thing that’s happened to me. I made a lot of friends and learned a lot.”

A quarter of Gilmartin’s score was based on his original research. In a project he called “Spare the Environment, Spoiler the Car: The Effect of Rear Spoilers on Drag and Lift,” Gilmartin studied how different sizes and shapes of spoilers change the amount of drag that cars experience. He built a six-foot wind tunnel in his house and tested various combinations of model cars and hand-carved wooden spoilers, tests that ultimately told him that some kinds of rear spoilers on SUVs may ease drivers’ pain at the pump.

The other portion of Gilmartin’s winning score came from a gauntlet of science challenges in Washington, D.C. Over several days, teams made up of the 30 Broadcom MASTERS finalists designed and constructed a model house to withstand strong gusts made by a giant fan, tested various biofuels for their energy potential and engineered a passenger restraint system that simulated the forces involved in a car crash (the “passenger” was the good ole science-fair standby — the egg).

“This year’s Broadcom MASTERS finalists have taken on projects that have the potential to improve our environment, our health, our communities,” said Elizabeth Marincola, president of Society for Science and the Public, which administers the Broadcom MASTERS competition and publishes Science News. “Our finalists tonight exemplify what our students can do if given the right encouragement, direction and support.”

For her ingenuity, 13-year-old Jessika Baral took home the Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation and $10,000. Inspired by a family full of glasses-wearers, Baral designed a gadget that flashes LED lights in the periphery. After a few weeks of practice with the device, Baral’s family, classmates and neighbors in Fremont, Calif., saw improvements in their peripheral vision.

This year’s crop of finalists also included 13-year-old twin brothers — Shashank Dholakia and Shishir Dholakia of Santa Clara, Calif. — who tracked the movements of two stars in the sky; a 14-year-old surfer from Hebron, Conn. — Maura Clare Oei  — who developed a way to capture energy from waves; and a 13-year-old Texas rancher — Paige Gentry  of San Angelo — who had a run-in with a rabid skunk in her hen house. After tinkering around with various types of skunk bait that could eventually be spiked with a rabies vaccine, Gentry discovered that skunks like chicken best.

First and second place awards of $3,500 and $2,500 were given in four areas of the competition — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That award is to be spent toward attending a summer camp with a research focus. First prize in science went to Shixuan Justin Li of Lynn Haven, Fla., and second to Nicole Odzer of North Miami Beach, Fla. First prize in technology went to Daniel Lu of Carlisle, Mass., and second to Anirudh Jain of Portland, Ore. First in engineering was Chase Lewis of Chapel Hill, N.C., and second was Carolyn Jons of Eden Prairie, Minn. Maria Elena Grimmett of Jupiter, Fla., took first place in mathematics, with Maya Patel of The Woodlands, Texas, taking second.

For demonstrating a high spirit of camaraderie in the science challenges, Cassie Drury and Mabel Wheeler won Rising Stars Awards, a trip to the largest international precollege science competition, Intel ISEF, which will be held in Phoenix in May.

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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