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ACS News

June 12, 2006
Volume 84, Number 24
pp. 41-42

Students Dazzle At Intel Science Fair

ACS Indiana Section members donate their time and talent as judges

Linda R. Raber

As Indianapolis geared up for the Indy 500, "the greatest spectacle in racing," another, quieter, competition was taking place that was nothing short of spectacular???the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair. In all, about 1,200 projects were on display as about 1,500 finalists???high schoolers from all over the world???presented their findings, met with senior scientists, and, after the judging was over, had fun socializing. As they always do, a cadre of about 1,200 volunteer judges, mostly Ph.D.s, traveled at their own expense to participate in the event, which attracted media attention worldwide.

Photo by Linda Raber

ENGINEERING At the exposition, students from Perry Meridian Sixth Grade Academy hang out by Indiana University's robotics display.

The International Science & Engineering Fair, which is coordinated by Science Service, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., has an illustrious 55-year history of recognizing exceptional science talent in high school students. The students competing in the 2006 fair were winners of local and regional science and engineering fairs who had advanced to the finals. They came from 45 states and 40 countries in pursuit of $3 million in awards and scholarships distributed in 800 individual student and team awards.

Top prizes of $50,000 each went to three young women: Hannah L. Wolf, 16, of Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa., for her earth science project, "Sleuthing Epicenter Direction from Seismites, Cretaceous Wahweap Formation, Cockscomb Area, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah"; Madhavi P. Gavini, 16, Mississippi School for Mathematics & Science, Columbus, for her medicine and health project titled "Engineering of a Novel Inhibitor of Biofilm-Encapsulated Pathogens"; and Meredith A. MacGregor, 17, Fairview High School, Boulder, Colo., for her physics project titled "Cracking the Brazil Nut Effect."

Photo by Linda Raber

In addition to awards from Intel Foundations, approximately $1.5 million in scholarships, summer internships, scientific field trips, and lab equipment is awarded by nearly 70 other corporate, professional, and government sponsors. The American Chemical Society is one of those sponsors, and this year ACS recognized four exceptional chemistry projects with cash prizes totaling $10,000. The Indiana Section provided judges. Howard M. Peters, a member of the ACS Board of Directors and an enthusiastic longtime supporter of the science and engineering fair, was also a judge in the ACS competition.

"There were some 68 chemistry presentations, and I didn't feel it would be fair if I didn't look at them all," says William G. Trankle, an organic chemist at Eli Lilly & Co. "I was in the hall for more than four-and-a-half hours looking things over and making my recommendations," he says. He could have done it more quickly, but "knowing that these students put their hearts and souls into getting that far made for great motivation to stay," he says.

Judging was tough. "The students and the projects were indeed impressive, which made it difficult to pick only a few projects for the awards," says Mark J. Tebbe, manager of operations in discovery chemistry at Eli Lilly and another of the judges selecting winners for the ACS awards in chemistry.

The ACS group tended to favor those projects that clearly were inventive and not necessarily the fanciest ones. "I thought that some of the simplest ones were the best because they required a great deal of ingenuity on the part of the students. One guy actually built several iterations of his own calorimeter, improving it each time???that's the kind of scientist you want to work with," Trankle says.

When the voting was done, the top ACS prize of $4,000 went to Jennifer Jia Wu, 18, a senior at Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science & the Arts in Hot Springs. Her research, titled "Meth Busters: An In Situ Test for Determining Methamphetamine History in Homes," is already the subject of a patent application. She developed a wall swab that detects hydriodic acid, a by-product of methamphetamine production, at very low levels.

The second-place ACS award of $3,000 went to Wendy Chen-Wei Tsai, 16, a junior at the Affiliated Senior High School of National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan. Her research involved optimizing a catalyst that eliminates carbon monoxide exhaust from gas water heaters.

Third- and fourth-place awards of $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, went to Jameson K. Hackbarth, 18, a senior at L. V. Hightower High School in Missouri City, Texas, and Jeff K. Bewan, 17, a senior at American Fork High School in American Fork, Utah. There were seven honorable mention awards.

"I was stunned by the level of material I witnessed," Trankle says. "I remember back to what I was doing when I was in high school, and it certainly didn't involve NMR, GC/MS, or HPLC." Trankle believes that the students who participate at the Intel science and engineering fair are "almost all bound to enter science in some way or another and that it motivates students to go out and find internships, jobs, or research experiences in advanced labs and facilities that they might not have otherwise sought," he says.

In addition to the competition, the science and engineering fair hosted an exposition featuring displays from universities and employers designed to pique younger students' interest in science and engineering careers. Hundreds of Indiana students, mostly middle schoolers, had a blast participating in science demonstrations, learning about sustainable technology, and meeting real scientists. Of the whole experience, Tebbe says, "It certainly served to reignite enthusiasm for science in all of us."

Photo By Linda Raber (top) Photo by Thomas Nance/NPT Imaging
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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