Californians Excel at Intel Science Talent Search

By: Maya Ramachandran

The Intel Science Talent Search, an elite high school research competition, announced its top 10 winners out of 40 finalists on March 15 in Washington D.C. The state of California supplied 11 of the 40 finalists and 3 of the 10 overall winners, including the first place winner, Evan O’Dorney, who is home-schooled in Danville, CA.

As America’s oldest and most prestigious high school science competition, the Intel Science Talent Search’s goals are to promote innovations and highlight the need for higher-level math and science education. Over 1,700 high school students entered the contest to showcase their original research projects, with 10 winners chosen from 40 finalists. The 10 winners received scholarships ranging from $20,000 to $100,000, along with the opportunity to meet the president in Washington, D.C.

O’Dorneywon the top award of $100,000 for his project entitled “Continued Fraction Convergents and Linear Fractional Transformations,” in which he discovered a faster method to estimate the square roots of integers. The byproducts of his research include equations that can be used to encrypt computer data.

O’Dorney, the first Californian to win this impressive competition, was one of the 11 Californian finalists, the most of any state in the country. The top ten winners list also included two more names from California – Selena Li, from Mira Loma High School, who discovered a novel and effective treatment for liver cancer, and Xiaoyu “Carrie” Cao, from Torrey Pines High School, who developed an approach to detect toxins in the air. Other interesting projects included those by the second and third place winners. Second place honors and $75,000 went to Michelle Hackman, from John Miller Great Neck North High School in New York, for studying the effect of separating teenagers from their cell phones. Third place and $50,000 was awarded to Matthew Miller, from Western Alamance High School in North Carolina, for studying the affect of small bumps on wind turbines’ aerodynamics.

Two out of the 11 finalists for this competition, Rohan Mahajan and Nikhil Parthasarathy, came from the Harker School in San Jose, California, the only school with two finalists in the entire country. Mahajan received the honor for his work on the improvement of photoelectrochemical cells, while Parthasarathy won for his work with astrophysics.

With 20 semifinalists and four finalists in six years, Harker is becoming a major school for research, science, and math enthusiasts. The school has special classes including “Research Methods” and “Advanced Research” in order to help students enter these prominent science contests, along with a $25 million dollar science and technology facility. The San Jose Mercury News called Harker “The ‘it’ school for our next Einsteins,” revealing the “contest fever” caught by the students.

Every year, the Intel Science Talent Search proves itself to be an excellent opportunity for the brightest minds in America to showcase their innovations. The large number of finalists from California shows the state’s involvement in cutting-edge research. As President Barack Obama stated, the competition “teach[es] our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but also the winner of the science fair.” Junior Bolun Liu agreed, saying, “I believe that the Intel Talent Search is an excellent way to get real life experience in scientific fields.”

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