Intel Science Talent Search – Why I am so passionate about it!

This year marks Intel’s 10th anniversary as title sponsor of the Intel® Science Talent Search, the oldest and most prestigious science competition for high school students in the US. The goal of the competition is to highlight the very substantive and exciting work America’s younger generation has produced, to inspire other students to follow in their footsteps, and to encourage educators and communities across the US to help create a nurturing environment to inspire tomorrow’s innovators. In many cases, the research submitted by these high school students would qualify as a PhD thesis! Every year as I meet these kids, I am amazed at their talent and the breadth of the mind-boggling science projects they have submitted.

Over the years, STS alumni have received more than 100 of the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including six Nobel Prizes, three National Medals of Science, ten MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and two Fields Medals. Wow!

Here are some quick facts for 2008:

• 1602 entrants from 45 states and 504 schools

• 300 Semi-Finalists

• 40 Finalists

• $1.25 million in scholarship awards

The range of projects is just tremendous. This year alone students have submitted:

• The design and construction of affordable microbial fuel cells that could generate clean water and clean energy anywhere

• the relationship of nicotine to breast cancer and chemotherapy efficacy

• the cross-influence of public and private funding for Iowa’s public libraries

Last year marked a first in the history of the program with an equal number of male and female finalists. The 2007 winner was Mary Masterman, a 17-year-old high school senior from Oklahoma who designed and built a spectrograph system from scratch. Mary found she could attain accurate wavelength measurements compared to published readings for household solvents and other objects despite using an inexpensive laser. The cost for building her spectrograph was only $300; quite an accomplishment compared to the $20,000 – $100,000 cost for commercial units.

Another project I found particularly interesting was by the top winner in 2004. Herbert Mason Hedberg from Massachusetts developed a faster, more effective method to tell if a person has cancer. He explored a way to separate telomerase, an enzyme found in most cancer cells. His findings have helped advance research into ways of stopping cancer cells from growing. Herbert said he started the project after watching his own grandmother’s struggle with cancer. (She survived to celebrate his award with him – and hearing the pride in her voice was something to bring a tear to any eye!)

To reach back a bit farther, Ted Hoff – inventor of the microprocessor and the very first Intel Fellow – was an STS finalist in 1954. Check out this video interview with him

The competition culminates in the Intel Science Talent Institute – a weeklong series of exciting events for the Finalists in Washington DC – and the Intel STS Awards Gala, a glamorous, exciting and confetti-filled black tie event held at the Reagan Center on the evening of March 11, 2008. The top 10 students and the winners of the gold, silver and bronze medals will be announced. I am excited about the opportunity to meet 40 of the best and brightest young scientific minds in America and view their awe-inspiring projects. Keep an eye on the Intel education website to find out if one of the Finalists from your local community is a winner, and to read about the wonderful work and stories from this next generation of our countries scientific leaders.