SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Intel Science Talent Search encourages student excellence and innovation

May 18, 2009
Forty finalists in the 2009 Intel Science Talent Search competition spent a week in the nation's capital, where they competed for more than $500,000 in awards and scholarships.

Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business leaders.


Recently, Washington, D.C., hosted a gathering of extraordinary young scientists. Forty finalists in the 2009 Intel Science Talent Search (STS) competition spent a week in the nation's capital, where they competed for more than $500,000 in awards and scholarships. At the conclusion of the rigorous judging process, winners were announced at a black-tie gala held on March 10 in the historic Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

Eric Larson, 17, of Eugene, Ore., won the top award, a $100,000 scholarship from the Intel Foundation, for his research project classifying mathematical objects called fusion categories, which his work describes in certain dimensions for the first time. Second place, a $75,000 scholarship, went to William Sun, 17, of Chesterfield, Mo., for his biochemistry project that studied the effects of a recently discovered molecule that could potentially help efforts to treat bacterial infections or prevent neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. The third place honoree was Philip Streich, 18, of Platteville, Wis. He received a $50,000 scholarship for his chemistry project on carbon nanotubes that may lead to the development of ultrastrong materials and ultrafast nanoelectronics. Philip's work has resulted in five provisional patent filings.

Fourth- through sixth-place finalists each received a $25,000 scholarship; seventh- through tenth-prize winners received $20,000 scholarships. The remaining 30 finalists were awarded $5,000 scholarships and a new laptop computer.

The Intel Science Talent Search, a program owned and administered by the Society for Science (SSP), is an annual competition now in its 67th year. Since its inception in 1942, the competition has sought out and recognized the nation's most promising high school seniors, whose original research projects in a range of mathematical, engineering, environmental and scientific disciplines are judged by a national jury of highly regarded professional scientists. Science Talent Search finalists have gone on to illustrious careers, winning seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, three National Medals of Science, and ten MacArthur Foundation Fellowships.

The competition kicks off every year in November, when high school seniors from around the country submit research projects. Contestants are judged on originality and creative thinking, along with overall achievement and leadership inside and outside the classroom. In January, 300 semifinalists are identified. Each receives a $1,000 scholarship from the Intel Foundation and $1,000 for their school. The field is then narrowed to 40 finalists, who travel to Washington, D.C., in March for an exciting week that includes meetings with national leaders, opportunities to interact with leading scientists, a display of their projects at the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, and the award banquet.

More than 1,600 students submitted projects in 2009. Entrants came from 36 states, the District of Columbia, and accredited overseas schools in India and South Korea. Projects covered a wide range of scientific disciplines, including biochemistry, chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering, behavioral science, and medicine and health.

Since taking over sponsorship of the Science Talent Search from Westinghouse in 1998, Intel Corporation has increased the total annual awards and scholarships from $207,000 to $1.25 million. In October 2008, the Intel Foundation committed $120 million over the next ten years for continued sponsorship of this program and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. In January 2009, Intel and SSP launched two new programs: a nationwide search to find past alumni of the STS to link with current participants, and a Fellows Program to provide funds and training to select U.S. science and math teachers.

SSP's youth science programming provides great models for philanthropic organizations, like the OSA Foundation, and science-focused companies around the world. Every sector &emdash; corporate, academic, nonprofit, government, and the general public &emdash; should do their part to encourage student excellence and innovation. If you are not yet actively involved in supporting youth education, I hope you will consider doing so. Happily, there are many outstanding programs already in place that can benefit from your participation.


For more photos of the Intel Science Talent Search, click here.

The OSA Foundation, created in 2002, is dedicated to supporting programs that advance youth science education, provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources, and support awards and honors that recognize technical and business excellence. Contributions to the Foundation, a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c) (3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, are deductible as provided by law. All donors receive special recognition and acknowledgements, unless they request to be anonymous. Donations to the OSA Foundation are matched dollar-for-dollar by the Optical Society. For more information, please contact the OSA Foundation staff via telephone: +1.202.416.1421 or email: [email protected].

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