For young scientists, the spectacle was akin to the Academy Awards. To the whoops and cheers of formally attired admirers and beneath a cascade of confetti, 40 of the nation’s brightest high school science seniors received credit for the years they devoted to original research. By the end of the gala, held March 11 at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., the finalists in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search had collectively amassed more than $500,000 in scholarships.
“Many Intel STS finalists will go on to have distinguishing science careers, perhaps one day solving a fundamental scientific mystery or making a scientific breakthrough that helps improve people’s lives,” said Craig Barrett, the chief executive officer of Intel Corp., which sponsors the competition.
Science Service, the publisher of Science News, has run the venerated annual contest, previously funded by Westinghouse, since 1942.
This year’s first prize, a $100,000 scholarship, went to Jamie Elyce Rubin, 16, of Canterbury School in Fort Myers, Fla. Rubin developed a technique that enabled her to describe two key enzymes of Candida albicans, the most common cause of yeast infections in people.
The molecular characteristics that Rubin detailed could serve as targets for drugs designed to attack the fungus without harming similar enzymes in human cells.
Tianhui “Michael” Li, 18, of Oregon Episcopal School in Portland captured second place–and a $75,000 scholarship. Li built, from materials that cost him about $100, a desktop device for studying the physics of nuclear fusion. His work with the device grew into a project with NASA in which Li measured electron densities in plasma.
Anatoly Preygel, 17, of Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland won third prize, a $50,000 scholarship, for his investigation into the mathematical properties of knots.
For placing fourth through sixth, Peter Michal Pawlowski, Naveen Neil Sinha, and Lester Wayne Mackey were awarded $25,000 each. Pawlowski, 17, of Troy High School in Fullerton, Calif., examined the chemistry of sulfur compounds suspended in air.
Sinha, 18, of Los Alamos High School in New Mexico converted his bedroom into a laboratory–and moved into a guest bedroom–so that he could develop a technique for using sound waves to study bubbles and liquids. Mackey, 18, of Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills, N.Y., taught himself graph theory before proving that an existing mathematical conjecture applies to a previously unconsidered class of graphs.
Four additional winners received $20,000 apiece. Carolyn Morgan Tewksbury, 17, of Clinton Senior High School in New York used images of Venus to test a theory on the evolution of volcanic plateaus. Yi-Chen Zhang, 17, of Bronx High School of Science in New York studied how exposing cockroaches to common pesticides affects the insects’ production of molecules that trigger people’s allergies. Anna Gekker, 17, of Brooklyn Technical High School in New York analyzed psychosocial factors that influence how people recover in rehabilitation facilities. Emma Rose Schmidgall, 17, of Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope, Minn., probed the crystal structure of a high-temperature superconductor. Among those 10 winners, half were women.
The remaining 30 finalists, who had risen to the top of the competition’s 1,560 entrants this year, each received $5,000 toward educational costs. Intel presented all finalists with a high-performance computer.
In the days leading up to the awards event, the finalists toured the national capital and presented their research to the competition’s judges, other scientists, and curious and sometimes befuddled members of the public.
As the awards banquet concluded, the finalists let down their hair and accepted congratulations offered by teachers, parents, and fans. But the top winners were whisked away, bound for an early-morning television appearance in New York–and whatever prestigious discoveries their futures may bring.
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