Student Scientists Celebrate Like Rock Stars

Three weeks ago in Oregon, President Obama told the nation that we should not just celebrate the winners of the Super Bowl, but the winners of science fairs, too. So yesterday we took him at his word. First we took the forty smartest young scientists in the US to visit him at the White House. And then we threw them a party. And, I mean, this was a PARTY!

The Intel Science Talent Search Gala Awards banquet was an event like no other. We, and 650 of our best friends, put on our best bib and tucker. The National Building Museum – one of the grandest interior spaces in Washington, D.C. – was absolutely splendid, decked out in crimson, black and silver. Paul Otellini was a gracious and enthusiastic host to senators, congressional representatives, leading scientists, and government leaders – a definite A-List crowd of our nation’s finest.

And these students lived up to it all. And then some…

There was not a dry eye in the house as students were introduced one by one – a special moment for each one of them, with a personal note to let the audience know them as more than just words on a page.

There was Bryan He, who competes in the USA Computing Olympiad Gold Division, and who, as a ninth-grader, programmed a computer to beat himself – and most other humans – at ‘Connect Four’. He plans to study artificial intelligence and algorithms at Caltech or MIT.

Or Nonie Arora, who is an aspiring physician doing important research on multidrug resistance yeast that kills 40% of immunocompromised patients, and who plans to attend Yale or Northwestern this fall (but is hoping that the Hogwarts Express shows up before then).

Rounok Joardar hopes to study Biomedical or Electrical Engineering to advance the field of medicine. That and a little magic, a little guitar, and the ability to solve a Rubik’s cube in ‘a minute something’ are all part of his toolkit.

And Madeleine Ball will attend Barnard College next fall with a double major in Biochemistry and Environmental Policy. More than anything she wanted to recognize her middle school science teacher, who told her students she was not a doctor herself, because ‘as a teacher she could help raise thousands of doctors and scientists.’

And then the winners were announced:

First Place went to brilliant musician, composer and mathematician, Evan O’Dorney of Danville, California. The judges said to keep an eye on him as a future Fields Medal contender.

Second Place goes to Michelle Hackman of Great Neck, New York, who conducted publishable research into anxiety and ‘cell phone separation’ among teens, and, in her spare time, created a non-profit and raised funds to start a high school in Cambodia for girls who have been the victims of sexual violence.

Third Place went to Matthew Miller of Elon, North Carolina. Matthew developed a method for dramatically improving the aerodynamics of wind turbine blades, increasing power generated by 23%.

The week of events leading up to and including the Intel Science Talent Search Gala is our favorite week of the year at the Intel Foundation. More than any other program, Intel STS gives us a chance to really get to see the fruits of our labors, and to get to know the wonderful young people who benefit from more than a million dollars in scholarships.

Our goal in all this celebration, is not just to show 40 students a great time. We believe that by celebrating and highlighting these students and their accomplishments, we can inspire other students to reach for similarly challenging goals. We hope to inspire parents and educators, too, to encourage students not just to study science, but to be scientists. The rewards are great – and not just the $1.25 Million in scholarships we offer to the Intel Science Talent Search participants. Being the first person in the world to know something – to actually push the boundaries of science – is pretty heady stuff, whether you are 17 or 47. These students have gotten a taste of that, and they are not likely to forget it. It will change the way they look at the world forever, and for the better.

I wish I could invite you all to the party. But be sure to come visit the students virtually at Inspired By Education. It is time for the People’s Choice Awards where you get to be the judges – so come take a look and vote for your favorite. Trust me – there is not a loser in the bunch.