The Washington, D.C.-based Society for Science and the Public honored the 2009 winners of the Intel Science Talent Search on March 10, recognizing 40 high school seniors for their original research projects–all of which make a profound contribution to society’s understanding of science.
Students entered a variety of project topics, including designing and synthesizing a tumor-targeting drug for cancer treatment, studying underage drinking behavior and how it is tied to teen perceptions of parental drinking and parenting behaviors, and formulating a set of hydrodynamic equations that might provide a method to better understand the first movements of the universe and could aid in the development of a quantum theory of gravity.
The top 10 finalists were announced at an awards gala in Washington, D.C., and received four-year scholarships ranging from $20,000 to $100,000. Eric Larson, a 17-year-old from Eugene, Ore., won the top award. His research project classified mathematical objects called fusion categories, which he described in certain dimensions for the first time.
Retired Army Gen. and former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the students the successes they’ve achieved at such a young age require them to give back to their peers and others.
"One of your responsibilities is that you make sure that, as you become adults you don’t turn away from citizens who are in need," he said "As you come to the top … give kindness and help the people down below, because they need you more than you’ll ever know."
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu encouraged the finalists to continue to challenge what they know.
"Most of the great discoveries have not been discovered," he said. "[Science] is a wonderful profession to be in. There is nobility in finding out how the world works."
The 40 finalists came from 35 schools in 17 states and were chosen from more than 1,600 entries. Each finalist received an Intel Core2 Duo processor laptop computer and a scholarship. Along with Larson’s first-place $100,000 scholarship, the second-place winner received a $75,000 scholarship, the third-place winner received a $50,000 scholarship, fourth through sixth places received $25,000, and seventh through 10th places received $20,000. The remaining 30 finalists received $5,000 each.
While in Washington, students met with scientists as well as President Barack Obama, something many of the students said was the highlight of their trip.
"He asked us all to go around the room and say our names and where we were from, and when it was my turn I said, ‘I’m Liz Rao and I’m from Chicago,’ and he was like, ‘I was waiting for someone to be from Chicago,’" said Elizabeth Rao, 17.
Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, who is scheduled to retire in June, stressed the importance of education overall.
"We need to redouble our efforts as a society to make sure all people have the educational opportunities that these 40 students have had," he said.
The Intel Science Talent Search encourages students to tackle challenging scientific questions and develop the skills necessary to solve the problems of tomorrow. Over the past 67 years, Science Talent Search finalists have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, a Fields Medal, the National Medal of Science, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
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