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The rewards of student research.

The rewards of student research

The knack of asking good questionsbrought scholarships and awards this week to a group of high school students in the 46th annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Topping the list was Louise Chia Chang, a senior at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools H.S., who investigated the genetic basis for cancer by asking which genes appear to be more active in malignant than in normal cells. Her research led to the isolation of two genes that are expressed at higher levels in transformed, cancerous cells. One of the genes seems to control production of a protein-destroying enzyme that may contribute to the pathological behavior of malignant cells. Chang won a $20,000 scholarship.

Second place went to Elizabeth LeeWilmer of Stuyvesant H.S. in New York City for her work on the three-color problem in mathematics. Her task was to determine which arrangements of countries or regions on a map could be colored with exactly three colors so that no bordering regions had the same color. Wilmer examined the properties of graphs--ways of representing maps in terms of networks of points connected by lines. She discovered several characteristics that a graph may possess if it is "three-colorable.' The awards to Chang and Wilmer mark the first time in the history of the Science Talent Search that female students have won the top two prizes.

A computer model of how a neuralnetwork may work to recognize patterns brought third place to Albert Jun-Wei Wong of Oak Ridge (Tenn.) H.S. Wong modified the equations for a "Hopfield network' to come up with a scheme that learns and recognizes a wider range of patterns than the original formulation of the network. Both Wilmer and Wong received $15,000 scholarships.

The winners of fourth through sixthplaces garnered $10,000 each. Fourth-place Joseph Chen-Yu Wang of Forest H.S. in Ocala, Fla., investigated radio waves emitted by the planet Jupiter. In fifth place, Daniel Julius Bernstein, a student at Bellport H.S. in Brookhaven, N.Y., worked out new procedures for computing various numbers, including pi and e (the base of natural logarithms), to a large number of digits. A computer simulation of an "optical molasses' of atoms slowed by laser beams brought sixth place to Stephen Alexander Racunas of Valley H.S. in New Kensington, Pa. His program may have potential as a way of predicting the behavior of devices designed to produce and confine "cooled' atoms.

The remaining students in the top 10received $7,500 scholarships. For seventh place, Maxwell V. Meng, a student at Centennial H.S. in Ellicott City, Md., studied an inherited disorder that may lead to heart disease. In eighth place, Todd Alan Waldman of Walt Whitman H.S. in Bethesda, Md., investigated one aspect of the rapid degradation of certain proteins within cells. Both Meng and Waldman worked on their projects at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Ninth place went to Maria Jose Silveira, a student at the Bronx (N.Y.) H.S. of Science. She studied a parasite that causes severe neurological damage. Michael Paul Mossey, in tenth place, refined a computer algorithm for finding sets of numbers in which no two pairs of numbers have the same difference. Mossey attends Greenhills H.S. in Cincinnati.

The other 30 national finalists eachwere given $1,000 awards. Selected as first and second alternates were Gur Hoshen of Naperville (III.) Central H.S. and Mason Ng of the Bronx H.S. of Science. The competition is conducted by Science Service, Inc.

In his address at the awards banquet,chemist and Nobel laureate Dudley R. Herschbach of Harvard University emphasized that the essence of scientific research is "falling in love with some idea and being reckless enough to pursue it.' In the end, that kind of spirit is enormously productive, he says, because it opens up new ways of solving problems and answering questions about nature. That's also the kind of spirit evident among the finalists in this year's Science Talent Search. Says Herschbach, "The answers are waiting for you.'

Photo: Chang; Wilmer; Wong
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Title Annotation:1987 Westinghouse Science Talent Search
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 7, 1987
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