Motor City hosts top science fair winners

They may not have lived up to the classic Motown hit by dancing in the street. But more than a thousand high school students from around the world still had a ball last week in Detroit, where they gathered for the 51st International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). The students met with Nobel and Draper prize winners, toured high-tech automotive design centers, and visited a replica of Thomas Edison’s laboratory. In addition to those diversions, they competed for $2 million in scholarships and awards, many of them from the primary sponsor of ISEF, Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif.

Jouei, Douglas, and Powell (left to right) earned Intel Young Scientist awards. Intel

“It’s an incredible payoff for all the hard work we students do,” says Nazanin Jouei of Coral Springs, Fla.

Jouei, who modeled the biochemistry of a key step in vision, was one of three students who won a $40,000 Intel Young Scientist Scholarship. The other two top spots went to Karen K. Powell of Fort Pierce, Fla., and Jason L. Douglas of Milford, Ohio. Powell used PNA, a molecule similar to but more stable than DNA, to inhibit genes that control rodent appetite. Douglas developed a new way to solve Schrödinger’s equation of quantum mechanics.

As one of two winners of the Glenn T. Seaborg Nobel Prize Visit Award, Jouei also earned a free trip to Sweden to observe the festivities in Stockholm next December. Garrett J. Young of Branchburg, N.J., who experimented with plasmas, will join her.

The Intel ISEF, run by Science Service, the publisher of Science News, also awarded trips to two teams. Travis M. Beamish and Avaleigh N. Milne, both of Kingston, Ontario, will travel in September to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Amsterdam to present their study of how soybean cells react to anesthetics. In January 2001, at the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibit in Dublin, Joseph E. Pechter and William H. Pechter of Vero Beach, Fla., will describe their software that converts text to speech for the blind.

The fair’s judges, totaling more than 1,000, said they were “astounded” and “humbled” by the projects. “I believe that the kids [who attended the fair] will leave footprints on history the same way the astronauts left their footprints on the moon,” says Intel Fellow Eugene S. Meieran, one of the judges.

In 14 different scientific disciplines and in team projects, the fair honored best-of-category winners with awards totaling $8,000 for each. In behavioral and social sciences, Kathy H. Li of Plano, Texas, studied the factors that determine musical preference among adolescents. In biochemistry, Joel L. Stevens of Montgomery, Texas, used DNA as a computational device. In botany, Yu-Jen Lee of Hsiu-Chu, Taiwan, looked at the development and breeding of the plant Cyathea spinulosa. In chemistry, Jouei’s study of vision earned her this honor, too. In computer science, Robert Y. Wang of Conway, Ark., improved the way that computers render graphics. In earth and space sciences, Jay L. Michaels of Cocoa, Fla., investigated how a tornado arises.

A project on robotics won the highest honor in engineering for Ryan R. Patterson of Grand Junction, Colo. In environmental sciences, Crystal L. Gammon of Eldon, Mo., tested the antiparasite medicine ivermectin. In gerontology, Benjamin C. Beranek of Lafayette, Ind., probed sex hormone effects on bone cancer. In mathematics, Ching Tang Chen of Taipei, Taiwan, devised a new kind of geometric transformation. In medicine and health, Joshua M. Levy of Gaithersburg, Md., scrutinized how cells commit suicide. In microbiology, Linda J. Arnade of Palm Bay, Fla., studied the role of bacteria and nitric oxide in atherosclerosis.

Michael T. Hasper of Tallahassee, Fla., probed the acoustics and construction of violins to prevail in the physics category. In zoology, Kerry A. Geiler of Massapequa Park, N.Y., compared how various ant species communicate. In the team-project category, Beamish and Milne took the top honor.

Earlier this year, Geiler, Wang, and Levy were also among the finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search (SN: 03/18/00, p. 181: Message in DNA tops Science Talent Search).

For the first time in ISEF’s history, schools and local science fairs will share in the prize money. To promote science education, Intel awarded $1,000 grants to many of the schools and fairs sponsoring winning students.

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