Student Scientists to Watch: With diverse ideas, young talents win big in annual competition

Pity the judges. With science projects by 40 of the nation’s brightest high school students arrayed before them last week, they had to weigh the merits of undertakings as diverse as a study of deep-sea volcanism and the discovery of a promising antibiotic.

DAVID L.V. BAUER of New York City captured top honors for developing a sensor for neurotoxins. S. Norcross

On March 15, at a black-tie dinner reception in Washington, D.C., the judges’ final decisions were announced and 10 students were named winners in the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search. The winners and their fellow competitors, all of whom had passed earlier rounds of judging to become this year’s finalists, collectively earned more than $500,000 in scholarship pledges.

The first prize of $100,000 went to the 17-year-old designer of a novel biosensor. Recognizing the need to rapidly sense nerve-damaging chemicals that could be released into public places, David Lawrence Vigliarolo Bauer of Hunter College High School in New York City designed a device that detects compounds that stop the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from working. This chemical disruption is a trait common to many neurotoxins.

For research geared toward particle physics, Timothy Frank Credo, 17, of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, earned the second-place scholarship of $75,000. He developed a design for a detector that would be capable of determining, with unprecedented accuracy, the speed and mass of subatomic particles emerging from high-energy atomic collisions.

Kelley Harris, 17, of C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, Calif., won the $50,000 third-place scholarship for characterizing the shape and function of two newly isolated fish enzymes belonging to a little-studied class of compounds. In animals and people, enzymes of this class make cells vulnerable to viruses such as smallpox.

Three students won $25,000 awards. Robert Thomas Cordwell, 17, of Manzano High School in Albuquerque, placed fourth for his study of the mathematical properties of sets of points that lie along a circle and can be connected into polygons. Fifth-place winner Ryan Marques Harrison, 17, of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute developed a computer algorithm to predict how proteins interact at various acidities. Lyra Creamer Haas, 17, of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy placed sixth for her study of prehistoric Peruvian textiles, in which she created a list of artistic characteristics that archaeologists can use for dating specific sites.

Justin Alexander Kovac, 17, of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., was awarded seventh place for his analysis of 41 recent cyclones in the Gulf of Mexico and the relationships of these storms to eddies of warm seawater.

Karl James Plank, 17, of Squalicum High School in Bellingham, Wash., earned eighth place for devising a new approach to physically arranging nanoscale semiconductor particles.

Ninth-place winner James Andrew Cahill, 18, of Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School, determined that a shaftlike window in an 11th-century Anasazi structure framed the sunset on certain important days of that culture’s calendar.

Po-Ling Loh, 18, of James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wis., won 10th place for studying properties of numerical groups that correspond to each other in a manner that mathematicians call closure. She, Kovac, Plank, and Cahill received $20,000 each toward their college tuitions.

The competition’s other 30 finalists (SN: 1/29/05, p. 70: The Heights of School Science: Select student research rises to the top) each received a $5,000 scholarship, and all 40 finalists took home a notebook computer from the contest’s sponsor, Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif.

Past winners of the Science Talent Search, formerly sponsored by Westinghouse, have gone on to win Nobel prizes and other major scientific honors. Since 1942, the competition has been administered by Science Service, the publisher of Science News.

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