Tortoise-studying teen takes top Broadcom prize

River Grace (third from left) won the Broadcom MASTERS competition. With him were, from left: Henry Samueli of Broadcom Corp., Susan Samueli of the Samueli Foundation, Scott McGregor of Broadcom Corp., Paula Golden of Broadcom Foundation and Rick Bates of SSP.

Patrick Thornton/SSP

WASHINGTON — Even a tortoise enthusiast can speed through a three-day gauntlet of science, engineering and math challenges to claim victory. River Grace, 14, of West Melbourne, Fla., did just that. At an awards ceremony October 1, he picked up the top award of $25,000.

The teen was one of 30 finalists from 17 states who attended the third annual Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars, or MASTERS, competition. “I had no idea I’d win this,” Grace said. “Any one of us could have won.”

Nine additional finalists took home cash awards or funding to attend a science camp. The Samueli Foundation, an organization created by Broadcom cofounder Henry Samueli, provided Grace’s funds. The Broadcom Foundation and Elmer’s Products together provided more than $500,000 in awards for finalists, semi­finalists, their teachers and their schools.

Finalists qualify on the basis of a middle school science fair project, but Broadcom MASTERS is not a science fair. A student’s entry project counts for about one-quarter of his or her score.

Grace’s project described an unusual swaying behavior in endangered tortoises living at a breeding facility where he volunteers. Grace observed that the tortoises rise up on their legs and sway back and forth when it rains. He thought the behavior might help the tortoises avoid drowning during flash floods in their native Madagascar. But his experiments simulating flood conditions disproved that notion; the purpose of the swaying remains unknown.

The rest of Grace’s winning score reflected his performance in a series of science challenges. Over two days, the finalists competed as part of five-member teams. Each team designed, built and tested electrical circuits as well as models of wind turbine blades, roller coasters and tall buildings. Other tasks included analyzing data to figure out what caused a massive fish kill. The finalists also deciphered which parts of certain Maya stone carvings denoted numbers representing dates.

“Congratulations to River and to all of our extraordinary finalists,” said Paula Golden, executive director of the Broadcom Foundation. Their skills, she said, “represent the total spectrum of talent needed to take on the world’s biggest challenges in technology, healthcare, transportation and sustainability.”

“Each finalist should be terrifically proud of their accomplishments and we look forward to following their bright futures,” said Rick Bates, interim chief executive officer of Society for Science & the Public, which runs the competition and publishes Science News.

Broadcom MASTERS Winners

The top prizes went to two 14-year-olds with impressive science projects.

The Samueli Foundation Prize: River Grace of West Melbourne, Fla., won $25,000. He studied an endangered tortoise’s behavior.

Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation: Eitan Acks of San Diego won $10,000. He developed a device to improve speech therapy.

STEM Award Winners

The following finalists were selected for demonstrated skills and promise in the disciplines represented by STEM.

Science Awards: First place went to Keoni Gandall of Huntington Beach, Calif. He created a vector for genetically engineering a bacterium. Second place went to Julienne Sauer of San Ramon, Calif., who studied superconductors and frictionless motion.

Technology Awards: First place went to Austin McCoy of Rochester, Minn. He worked on disease-detection lab equipment for developing countries. Second place went to Rebecca Bloomfield of Colorado Springs, Colo., who studied the effects of slope and remediation on postfire sedimentation.

Engineering Awards: First place went to Mihir Garimella of Pittsburgh, Pa. His project was on digitally re-creating smells. Second place went to Sidhika Balachandar, of Gainesville, Fla., who worked on soundproofing.

Mathematics Awards: First place went to Johann Kailey-Steiner of
Denver, who worked on rocket design. Second place went to Joshua Wentzel of Portland, Ore. His project was on homemade air cannons.

Rising Stars Award Winners

Two finalists were selected for scientific promise and spirit of cooperation. Krystal Horton of Menifee, Calif., did a project on a beetle infestation. Sean Weber of Sequim, Wash., studied waves and mussels.

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