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Flu drug research takes Intel STS top honors

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8:05am, March 12, 2014

Intel STS 2014 winners (left to right) William Kuszmaul, Kevin Lee and Eric Chen.

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WASHINGTON — A teenager’s computer analyses that identified six potential new flu-fighting compounds claimed first place March 11 at the awards gala for the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search.

Eric Chen, 17, of San Diego won the $100,000 by using supercomputers to analyze molecules that might block activity of an enzyme that all flu viruses use to reproduce. From a database of more than 450,000 compounds, he narrowed the list to 237. Lab studies identified six potent antiflu agents. The research may lead to medicines that could work during a flu outbreak while new vaccines are developed.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” Chen said. “All the other students are so amazing.”

Chen’s winning effort beat the research presented by 39 other Intel STS finalists (SN: 2/8/14, p. 26), who had been winnowed from 1,794 entrants representing 45 states, the District of Columbia and seven overseas schools.

“Society for Science & the Public proudly joins Intel in congratulating Eric Chen for his impressive research toward potential new drugs for influenza,” said Rick Bates, interim CEO and chief advancement officer of SSP. “By linking technology and science to the problems of the world they see around them, Eric and all the Intel STS finalists are tomorrow’s problem solvers.”

At the ceremony, the Intel Foundation awarded a total of $630,000 to the 40 finalists. The STS, a competition run by SSP, was first established in 1942. Intel began sponsoring the competition in 1998.

Second place and $75,000 went to Kevin Lee, 17, of Irvine, Calif. He developed a computer simulation of the heart’s contractions and the electrical signals that they produce. The simulation may provide insights about the causes of and potential treatments for irregular heartbeats.

William Kuszmaul, 17, of Lexington, Mass., won third place and $50,000 for research in an area of mathematics called modular enumeration. His work could help encrypt and verify data being transferred over a computer network.

“We at Intel celebrate the work of these brilliant young scientists as a way to inspire the next generation to follow them with even greater energy and excitement into a life of invention and discovery,” said Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation. “Imagine the new technologies, solutions and devices they will bring to bear on the challenges we face. The Intel Science Talent Search finalists should inspire all of us with hope for the future.”


Top 10 Winners

The 40 finalists in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search received a total of $630,000 in awards for their research. The top 10 received $20,000 or more.

1ST PLACE

Eric Chen (pictured right), 17, of San Diego. $100,000 for identifying potential flu treatments.

2ND PLACE

Kevin Lee, 17, of Irvine, Calif. $75,000 for a computer simulation of beating human hearts.

3RD PLACE

William Kuszmaul, 17, of Lexington, Mass. $50,000 for mathematical research that could help with data encryption.

4TH PLACE

Joshua Meier, 18, of Teaneck, N.J. $40,000 for identifying a gene that makes certain stem cells age rapidly, which limits their potential use in medical treatments.

5TH PLACE

Natalie Ng, 18, of Cupertino, Calif. $30,000 for developing a statistical model to assess the spread of breast cancer.

6TH PLACE

Aron Coraor, 17, of Huntington, N.Y. $25,000 for laboratory research shedding light on how certain minerals formed on the moon.

7TH PLACE

Zarin Rahman, 17, of Brookings, S.D. $25,000 for studying how adolescents’ use of smartphones and other devices affects sleep, stress and academic performance.

8TH PLACE

Anand Srinivasan, 17, of Roswell, Ga. $20,000 for a computer model that identifies gene boundaries in organisms whose cells have nuclei.

9TH PLACE

John Clarke, 17, of Syosset, N.Y. $20,000 for computer simulations of charged particles in Jupiter’s magnetic field.

10TH PLACE

Shaun Datta, 18, of North Potomac, Md. $20,000 for computer simulations of the interactions between subatomic particles in neutron stars.

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