These Teenagers Have Already Accomplished More Than You Ever Will

The winners of this year’s Intel Science Talent Search take on flu vaccines, stem cells and tools for diagnosing cancer

Intel Science Talent Search
The Intel Science Talent Search honored the top winner and nine esteemed runners-up of its 2014 competition at a black-tie affair in Washington, D.C. Society for Science & the Public

Every year since 1942, the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit promoting science education, has invited high school seniors to submit original research to a jury of prestigious scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

Entrants to the competition, now called the Intel Science Talent Search, are some of the “most promising young scientists in the U.S. who are creating the technologies and solutions that will positively impact people’s lives,” according to the contest’s website. The finalists—tomorrow’s innovators—often go on to nab Fields Medals, MacArthur grants and Nobel Prizes.

In total, 1,794 students from 489 high schools entered this year’s competition. The judging panel then selected the cream of the crop, literally the top 2 percent. These 40 finalists—15 females and 25 males hailing from 14 states—came to Washington, D.C., this past week to present their work and vie for a $100,000 grand prize.

Last night, Intel announced the top winner and the nine esteemed runners-up. 

1st Place: Eric S. Chen, 17, of San Diego

Eric Chen

Eric Chen, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, was awarded $100,000 for his microbiology research, which targets possible medicines for treating the flu. He leaned on both computer modeling and biology to find drugs that are inhibitors of endonuclease, an enzyme that allows viruses to spread to pandemic proportions. Chen has his sights set on a career as either a professor or a tech entrepreneur. 

2nd Place: Kevin Lee, 17, of Irvine, CA

Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee's research is personal. During a Taekwondo class, the University High School student found out that he had an arryhthmia, or irregular heartbeat. It was this discovery that spurred him to create a realistic model of a heart. The budding bioengineer came up with a series of mathematical equations to capture the shape of a beating heart, employing the basics of fluid mechanics. "His research may provide insight into the mechanisms responsible for arrhythmia, which could lead, in turn, to more efficient treatments for the disease," according to a release by the competition. Lee was awarded $75,000.

3rd Place: William Henry Kuszmaul, 17, of Lexington, MA

William Henry Kuszmaul

William Henry Kuszmaul's working knowledge of mathematics is at a level far higher than most of his peers. For the Intel Science Talent Search, the Lexington High School student and published author of several math papers devised a new method of modular enumeration—the process of calculating the remainder of a polynomial f when divided by xn - 1. His findings could propel the fields of computer science, computational biology and bioinformatics. Kuszmaul received $50,000.

4th Place: Joshua Abraham Meier, 18, of Teaneck, NJ

Joshua Abraham Meier

The prococious Joshua Abraham Meier is already at the helm of Provita Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company operated entirely by students. But the work he submitted to the Science Talent Search, earning him $40,000 in prize money, is further evidence that he will make his mark in the biotech industry. The senior at the Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology pinpointed a gene that slows the aging of artificially-made stem cells. His discovery could have implications for future cancer treatments.

5th Place: Natalie Ng, 18, of Cupertino, CA

Natalie Ng

Natalie Ng has aspiritions to become a geneticist—and she is well on her way. The Monta Vista High School student designed statistical models that could help predict how cancer cells metastasize, or spread, from breast tissue to other areas of the body. Intel awarded her 5th place and $30,000.

6th Place: Aron Coraor, 17, of Huntington, NY

Aron Coraor

A mineral called plagioclase exists in two states on the surface of the moon. Geologists have offered up an explanation for how this came to be, but Aron Coraor's theory might just be more plausible. In a chemistry experiment, the Huntington High School student exposed samples of the mineral to different temperatures and pressures and observed them under a microscope. "His model suggests that one variety of the mineral formed under significant pressure deep within the lunar magma ocean and subsequently floated to the surface before the moon solidified, while the other variety formed at shallower depths within the magma," says a release from the Intel Science Talent Search. Coraor earned $25,000 for his investigative work. 

7th Place: Zarin Ibnat Rahman, 17, of Brookings, SD

Zarin Ibnat Rahman

After spending hours at the computer, Zarin Ibnat Rahman had a rough night's sleep and felt sluggish the next day. Was screen time having the same effect on other teenagers? Curious, the Brookings High School senior designed a survey and a series of mental tasks for volunteers to complete. "Zarin's findings indicate that increased screen time may shape poor sleep patterns, resulting in daytime fatigue, greater stress, altered mood and reduced cognition and memory," says the release. "Beacuse the maturing brain is especially vulnerable to stressors, Zarin believes her research may flag exceessive electronic activity among adolescents as a public health concern." She was awarded $25,000.

8th Place: Anand Srinivasan, 17, of Roswell, GA

Anand Srinivasan

Anand Srinivasan, of Roswell High School, is the mastermind behind RNNScan, an algorithm that "learns" patterns in DNA and uses them to predict the often murky boundaries between coding and noncoding regions in the genomes of organisms. The tool, which has proven to be more effective at the task than GenScan, another available model, could help medical professionals screen for diseases in their patients. It may also assist pharmaceutical companies in designing drugs specific to an individual's genome. Srinivasan would like to pursue a career in artificial intelligence, but, until then, his work applying computer science to genomics has earned him $20,000.

9th Place: John Anthony Clarke, 17, of Syosset, NY

John Anthony Clarke

John Anthony Clarke is co-president of the astronomy club at Regis High School. As such, he leads weekly observations of the night sky. So, naturally, when it came time to pick a research topic for the Intel Science Talent Search, it was in the realm of planetary science. Clarke's project, which garnered him 9th place and $20,000 in the competition, uses computer simulation to study the X-ray emissions from Jupiter's magnetosphere.

10th Place: Shaun Datta, 18, of North Potomac, MD

Shaun Datta

Physics whiz Shaun Datta, of Montgomery Blair High School, simulated nuclear interactions with computer models and mathematical equations and reported on the results of his experiements for his contest submission. "His research may contribute to a more accurate characterization of fundamental atomic particles and subsequently a better understanding of neutron stars," says a release. Datta was chosen as the 10th place winner and received $20,000.