WASHINGTON, D.C.--Telomerase inhibitors, automata theory, and microchip construction inspired this year's winning projects at the Intel Science Talent Search. The top three winners outshined 37 other finalists to win college scholarships, with a first place prize of $100,000.
First place went to Herbert Mason Hedberg of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, for his project on telomerase inhibitors. Hedberg developed a novel method of analyzing the molecules by UV absorbance that takes just 10 minutes, as opposed to the days required for the standard method. Boris Alexeev of Athens, Georgia, took second prize, for his solution that minimized the complexity of a kind of ideal computer. Applications of his solution could help streamline programs used in DNA sequencing and speech recognition. Third prize went to Ryna Karnik, of Aloha, Oregon, for her new technique of constructing microchips. She used a focused ion beam as a molecular chisel to directly etch transistors onto silicon wafers.
The young innovators developed their taste for science exploration early. Hedberg says his first inspiration was his older brother's middle school science fair project, testing the strength of orthodontic glue using pulled teeth donated by a dentist. Karnik was so inspired by a book on particle physics she read in eighth grade that she built a particle accelerator in her garage out of spare parts. Because of its motley appearance, "my friends called it Frankenstein," she says. All three share their enthusiasm with younger students through volunteer work. Alexeev helps run statewide math competitions for high schoolers in Georgia, Karnik tutors a Spanish-language physics program for elementary school children, and Hedberg is the founder of "Exciting Elementary Science," a program designed to show curious fifth graders the appeal of science.