Science Talent Search winners shine bright

Even as the NASDAQ stock market slumped last Monday, the future of high technology never looked so strong.

Mariangela Lisanti, winner of the 2001 Science Talent Search, presents her physics research at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Gorman

At a gala black-tie reception in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, the Intel Science Talent Search–which has been administered for 60 years by Science Service, the publisher of Science News–handed out the top awards in its 2001 competition for high school seniors. Leading the winners were students with projects in physics, math, and computer science.

“You are our long-term planning,” NASDAQ vice chairman Alfred R. Berkeley III told the 40 finalists shortly before the top 10 awards were announced.

The first-place winner, 17-year-old Mariangela Lisanti of Westport, Conn., looked shocked as her name was announced. “I didn’t expect this at all,” she said.

Lisanti, who won a $100,000 scholarship, studied electron transport in gold nanowires using a new measurement technique that collects data more swiftly, cheaply, and easily than do methods currently in wide use by established scientists. Lisanti says she also made observations with her apparatus of phenomena never previously reported.

This kind of basic research helps scientists understand how objects only a few atoms or molecules across might one day constitute nanoscale electronic devices much smaller than any microelectronic systems in existence today. The field of nanotechnology is “blossoming right now,” says Lisanti, who hopes her work will have applications for computing, robotics, and biomedicine.

Second place and a $75,000 scholarship went to Nathaniel Jay Craig, 18, of Sacramento, Calif., for his mathematical research into the properties of supercooled polymeric liquids, which remain fluid even below their freezing points. Studies of such liquids could apply to nuclear-waste storage, biology, and electronics, says Craig, adding that the project has “also been a lot of fun theoretically.”

Gabriel Drew Carroll, 18, of Oakland, Calif., took home the third prize and a $50,000 scholarship for a fundamentalmath entry in which he studied the geometry related to so-called partially ordered sets, or posets.

Fourth through sixth places, along with $25,000 scholarships, were awarded, respectively, to: Alan Mark Dunn, 17, of Potomac, Md., for his encryption research; Michael Theprathan Hasper, 18, of Tallahassee, Fla., who tested the physical properties of various violin bridges, the part on which strings rest; and Vinod Easwaran Nambudiri, 17, of Rye Brook, N.Y., who examined how teenagers sleep after they have light shown on the back of their knees.

The seventh-through-tenth finishers each won a $20,000 scholarship. The recipients, in order, are: Johanna Beth Waldman, 17, of Roslyn, N.Y., for her investigation of factors that affect academic dishonesty; Hans Christiansen Lee, 18, of Carmel, Calif., who built and tested a system for improving a car’s handling; Robert Adam Horch, 18, of Weatherford, Texas, who used a new method to make precisely oriented arrays of molecules; and David Nejad Khalil, 18, of Great Neck, N.Y., who used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify areas of the brain associated with perceiving ambiguous images.

Each of the 30 other finalists won a $5,000 scholarship and a computer.

Before the awards banquet, Vice President Richard Cheney addressed the finalists. “Doing well in this competition is a strong indicator of future achievement,” he said. “The sun is just now rising over your professional lives.”

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