Recently three finalists at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nevada each won $50,000 scholarships from the Intel Foundation. These prizes were part of nearly $ 4 million in scholarships, tuition grants, scientific trips and equipment awarded at the world’s largest high school science competition.
Olivia Schwob, 16, of Boston won for her experiments that helped the roundworm (or nematode) Caenorhabditis elegans learn better. Previous work had shown that the GAP-43 protein is important in human learning. Ms. Schwob thought this protein might improve leaning in the lowly roundworm, so she introduced the GAP-43 gene into the worm’s DNA. Her work may help researchers to better understand learning disabilities in humans.
Li Boynton, 17, of Houston, won a top prize for developing a technique that uses the bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fescheri to detect environmental contaminants. Ms. Boynton exposed the bacterium to several pollutants, such as the herbicide atrazine, and correlated the extent of the bacterium’s glow to the level of contaminant exposure. Her analysis could yield a quick and cheap method for detecting pollutants in water.
Finally, Tara Adiseshan, 14, of Charlottesville, Va., who for her evolutionary relationships between several species of sweat bees and the species of nematodes that live in the bees, but do not harm them. She determined the genetic coding of a specific gene found in the bees and the nematodes. She then used these different DNA sequences to build family trees for both groups of organisms. Her analysis revealed that the bees and the nematodes had a tight-knit relationship throughout evolutionary history, diverging into new species at the same time.
Intel has to be applauded for investing a lot of money in the recognition and cultivation of these budding scientists, engineers, R&D professional and technical experts. The underlining reality is you don’t have to be a sports star or entertainment celebrity to gain notoriety. I just wish that more companies would pool at least some of their resources to help encourage our future technical talent. Instead of waiting for technical people to be available when your staffing needs arise, your employment process should be more future reaching including seeking out and assisting the bright stars in your community. Who knows, but the young person you assist could be a future Noble prize winner! I welcome your thoughts.