I caught up with some of the country’s top young scientists as they were getting glammed up for the Intel Science Talent Search awards gala March 15. The finalists let me hang out while they reminisced about their week in Washington, D.C., where they met with congressional representatives, presented their research to the public and to renowned scientists and even met — squeal!! — President Obama.
Finalist Michelle Hackman of Great Neck, N.Y., summed up her week in D.C.: “It’s been much better and wilder and crazier than I expected.” For her, one of the highlights was getting to know her fellow finalists. “They are all so incredible,” she said.
Earlier, finalist Krystle Leung of Naperville, Ill., explained her research linking particulates with lung inflammation to Illinois Rep. Judy Biggert. The congresswoman and the young scientist had a lot to talk about. “She spent a lot of time talking with me about her opinion on the budget cuts and how unfortunate it is that we have to take away from science,” Leung says. “It’s sort of taking away from the future.”
In addition to being impressed by a beautiful double helix trophy that Biggert had on display, Leung left with a favorable view of our public servants: “Usually you think Capitol Hill people are starchy, but she wasn’t at all.”
Also not starchy, these finalists say: President Obama. Elaine Zhou of Winter Park, Fla., says the commander in chief was just like a normal person. “He was like, ‘Oh, where are you going to college?’ And it’s President Obama, asking us what we are doing with our lives.”
Obama’s calm demeanor also made an impression on Carrie Cao of San Diego, Calif. “He came in with a really casual, ‘How are you guys feeling?’ which took us by surprise because we expected him to be a lot more formal than that. Because he’s the president.” Cao says that it was obvious that the president wasn’t just going through the motions, either. “He was genuinely interested in science,” she says.