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Young scientists honored for prize work.

Laura E. Becvar began the studies underlying her new patent-pending technique for spotting potentially toxic pollutants four years ago, when she was 12. Adam R. Healey, 17, has created an inexpensive biosensor for diagnosing Lyme disease. For their accomplishments, the pair carried home a bevy of awards last week from the 43rd International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), held in Nashville, Tenn. Chief among each young researcher's winnings: the top, Glenn T. Seaborg prize, a trip to Stockholm, Sweden, next December that includes attending the Nobel Prize ceremonies.

More than 750 high school scientists exhibited research projects--some of them six years in the making--at ISEF, a program administered by Science Service, Inc., in Washington, D.C. These finalists, the winners of nearly 400 affiliated science fairs in 47 U.S. states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Sweden and the United Kingdom, competed for more than 600 additional prizes last week. Though top awards in most categories totaled only $300 to $500, federal, academic and corporate sponsors of some special awards provided their top winners computers, scholarships of up to $20,000--even shares of company stock.

Becvar's new process places bluelight-emitting bacteria against a chromatogram--a paper-like sheet onto which a mix of chemicals has been physically separated into discrete substances. When the bacteria encounter a toxic chemical, "their luminescence is extinguished," Becvar reports. Affected zones on the chromatogram show up as black spots in photographs of the glowing bacteria. Becvar, now a junior at Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas, has used the technique to identify and quantify a range of toxic substances--including pesticides and heavy metals.

A senior at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, N.Y., Healey married a gold-plated quartz crystal to a homemade electronic device. By coating the crystal with protein from the Lyme bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, Healey created a biosensor that can detect antibodies to this tick-borne microbe.

Antibodies in a drop of blood placed on the sensor bind to the protein. When the blood is rinsed off, the antibodies that remain increase the crystal's mass enough to change its oscillating frequency. Healey found that 88 percent of the time this device proved as reliable at diagnosing Lyme disease as the two most accurate clinical assays.

The European Community (EC) awarded a pair of trips to the Fourth EC Contest for Young Scientists in Seville, Spain. Design of a four-dimensional computer-graphics language brought Jonobie D. Baker, 15, of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio, one of those trips. Baker was also an alternate for a Seaborg prize. Barnas G. Monteith, 16, of Randolph (Mass.) High School, won the second EC trip for his comparison of the microstructures of bird and dinosaur eggshells.
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Title Annotation:Laura E. Becvar, Adam R. Healey, Jonobie D. Baker, Barnas G. Monteith
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:May 23, 1992
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