WASHINGTON, D.C.--High school students researching astrophysics and nanoscale conductance in metals won the top prizes at the Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition today. Each of the two winning projects--one by an individual and one by a team--beat out five competitors to win a $100,000 college scholarship.
This is the second year for the Siemens Westinghouse competition, not to be confused with the 59-year-old Intel Science Talent Search (formerly known as the Westinghouse Talent Search). Last year, Siemens, a German electrical engineering and electronics company that now owns the Westinghouse power generation business, started its own high school science competition after Intel beat out Siemens for sponsorship of the talent search.
This year's winning team studied the remnant of an exploded star with data collected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Contrary to their mentor's hypothesis, the group of three seniors at the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham showed that the remnant was in fact a rapidly rotating neutron star, or pulsar--not a cloud of gas. The group has submitted their research paper to the Astrophysical Journal for publication.
Mariangela Lisanti, a senior at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, won the individual prize for developing a novel apparatus to measure the conductance of gold nanowires. Using a piezoelectric speaker element to bring two ends of a gold wire together to form a nanowire, Lisanti then measured the voltage drop with an oscilloscope interfaced with a computer. "It's a very technologically effective way to gather lots of useful information," says George "Pinky" Nelson, the lead judge of the competition and director of Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (ScienceNOW's publisher).
Physicist Robert Fesen says he and the other judges looked at how much work was done by the students themselves, the quality of the report, and how well they understood their experiment, among other criteria. "We were stunned at the general quality [of the projects]," he says. "We were asking the kinds of questions presented to graduate students."