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Local students absent from science contest finals

Last week the results of the 2005-2006 Intel Science Talent Search (STS) were announced by Science Service, the publishers of Science News. For us locally they represent a mix of good news and bad.

Consider first what STS is. It is our national science contest, with high school students submitting projects that are judged by experts in the various science fields. Now in its 65th year, this is easily the most prestigious science competition in this country. Past finalists have gone on to win Nobel prizes and other illustrious awards.

This year 1,558 students representing 486 high schools entered the competition. Each of the 300 students named a semifinalist wins a $1,000 scholarship, and an equal amount goes to the student's school. The 40 finalists will attend the Science Talent Institute in Washington, D.C. from March 9 to 14. There they will present their projects to judges and the public and will share $530,000 in scholarships.

That is not all. These students are highly recruited by colleges, and the scholarships they are awarded by those institutions amount to additional millions of dollars.

Now consider the good news. As always, New York State students did extremely well: 136 of the 300 semifinalists are from our state, as are 13 of the 40 finalists. Match these statistics against the two states with larger populations: California has 23 semifinalists and three finalists; Texas 18 and one.

More good news: Young women have often been underrepresented in science achievement. This year they make up a commendable 42.5 percent of semifinalists.

But there is bad news, as well. Indeed, New York State did well, but only five of those 136 semifinalists and none of the finalists are from upstate, that is, more than 50 miles north of New York City. Those five included two from the Albany area, two from Rochester suburbs and one from Dewitt near Syracuse. None was from the Niagara Frontier.

I find this situation unfortunate, at best. If this region is to establish itself as an educational center, surely it should do better. We have top research scientists here at our colleges and in our industries. If we could associate a few of these scholars with interested high school students, we could set some of these youngsters on a course to a career in science.

Of course, most of the projects have lockjaw technical titles like Fort Lauderdale, Fla., student Andrew Gordon's "Hysteresis in magnetically susceptible nanoparticles to alter intracellular events and affect atherosclerotic plaque behavior."

But others represent a wide range of research topics and look very interesting to me. Consider these, for example:

Owen Hill of Baltimore, Md.: "Determining the best live show: A sociological study of rock concerts."

Finalist Allison Gardner of Bedford: "Mosquito populations and arboviral vectors associated with equines" [translations: arboviral = forest viruses; equines = horses].

Michael Katz of Bellmore: "The impact of attack ads on public perceptions during the 2000 presidential campaign."

Mandy Kain of Hewlett: "The honest truth about academic dishonesty: The link between attribution theory and cheating among high school students" [attribution = explanation].

Finalist Brittany Russo of Merrick: "Seeing through the Ears."

Daniel Lang of Yardley, Pa.: "Design of an E-ZPass-compatible tire inspection system."

Anisha Karmakar of Benbrook, Texas: "The stability of satellites orbiting around irregularly shaped asteroids."

Shannon Babb of Highland, Utah: "Troubled waters: A six-month longitudinal study of the Spanish Fork River drainage system."

Timothy Grejtak of Darien, Conn.: "The design and construction of a novel hydrogen-fueled engine."

Guangxiang Ye of San Francisco: "This requires action: To overhaul the SI units" [SI = metric].

Finalist Diane Choi of Syosset: "Measuring passive love: Amae and Japanese uniqueness" [amae = indulgent dependency].

Miguel Bustos of Uniondale: "Rescuing our natural waters: Fighting eutrophication globally through the electrical attraction of phosphate and nitrate" [eutrophication = plant nutrient pollution]

Craig Barrett, chairman of competition sponsor Intel Corp., has it right when he says, "While as a nation we continue to struggle to improve science and math education, these students give us hope for our future."

We should get more local youngsters into this loop.


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