WASHINGTON, D.C.--A high school student who studied yeast proteins took home the Grand Prize in the individual competition of the Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology here today. In the team competition, two brothers who researched transmission of the West Nile virus won the Grand Prize. Each prize comes with a $100,000 college scholarship.
Siemens Westinghouse is now in its fifth year running science competitions for U.S. high school students. After 1283 students competed at regional competitions, only six individuals and six teams made the cut as national finalists. A panel of 12 scientists picked the winners. But even the runners-up don't go home empty handed--they receive scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
Yin Li, a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, says he was inspired by research in the lab of Nobel laureate Eric Kandel of Columbia University. "One day I read this article ... in Science about what he had done for the past 30 years in understanding the molecular basis of memory and learning," Li recalls. "This was tremendously exciting and I just had to contact the lab." Together with a postdoc scientist in Kandel's lab, Li characterized a yeast protein that they believe possibly controls protein synthesis in the mouse brain.
Jeffrey and Mark Schneider, from South Windsor High School in Connecticut, won the team event. Jeffrey's tendency to attract mosquito bites motivated the pair to create a mathematical model of how West Nile virus is transmitted, which judge Thomas Eng, president of EvaluMetrix LLC, says, "may help public health professionals make better decisions about this growing health threat."
"We're very impressed with the knowledge each of the students has not only within their own discipline but even implications," says lead judge Kathie Olsen, associate director in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, who says she was impressed by the students' oral presentations yesterday. Besides presenting their work clearly, she says, "they all did it in 12 minutes." Olsen intends to make a note of that to colleagues who tend to have trouble staying within the time allotted for their presentations.