Intel Whiz Kids: Science Awards
Two high school students of South Asian descent have won the coveted $50,000 top honor at the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. A Siliconeer report.
(Above): Sana Raoof (l), 17, of Muttontown, N.Y., Yi-Han Su (c), 17, of Chinese Taipei and Natalie Saranga Omattage, 17, of Cleveland, Miss., pose after receiving top honors at the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta May 16. The three persons each received a $50,000 scholarship from the Intel Foundation as part of their award. The 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair brought together more than 1,500 students from 51 countries, regions and territories to compete for more than $4 million in awards and scholarships.
Two out of three top honors at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the premier global science competition for high school students, went to students of South Asian descent.
The Intel Foundation May 16 announced top winners of the world’s largest pre-college science fair, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair presented by Agilent Technologies. Sana Raoof of Muttontown, N.Y. and Natalie Saranga Omattage of Cleveland, Miss. were among the top three contestants selected from more than 1,550 young scientists from 51 countries, regions and territories for their commitment to innovation and science. Raoof’s parents are from India while Omattage is of Sri Lankan descent. Yi-Han Su of Chinese Taipei was the third contestant.
Raoof, a senior at Jericho High School in Jericho, N.Y., conducted mathematical research on a branch of topology called knot theory. The central question in knot theory involves how to prove that two knots are the same or different. The reason this is difficult is that a knot can be drawn in an infinite number of ways, yet it is still the same knot. Mathematicians use knot invariants to assign consistent values to knots; however, every invariant so far has generated false positive results, meaning that knot equivalents cannot be guaranteed. Until now, that is, since Raoof recently proved that a preexisting invariant, the Alexander-Conway polynomial, can guarantee knot equivalents on all knots corresponding to lattice chord diagrams.
Because knot theory has applications in biochemistry, Raoof’s research may shed new light on a problem plaguing scientists for decades: the protein folding problem, or how proteins from amino acids fold up three-dimensionally in nature. Since there is a direct relationship between the structure and function of organic molecules, Raoof’s work could provide insight into the workings of the basic machinery of life.
In 2007, deadly contaminants penetrated the pet food supply in the United States, causing the deaths of hundreds of animals. Food additives contaminated with a toxic combination of melamine and cyanuric acid were found to be the cause. Though food imports are currently screened via chromatographic and mass spectrometric methods, the instruments, as well as the reagents, are expensive. Additionally, implementation of these methods requires highly trained personnel.
In her search for a better solution, Natalie Saranga Omattage, a student at The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Mississippi, explored alternative methods of detecting melamine and cyanuric acid in food. Using peptides with a high affinity to these chemicals, Omattage developed an effective quartz crystal microbalance-based biosensor capable of detecting melamine and cyanuric acid at low concentrations and in just a matter of minutes. Further, the biosensor is portable, less expensive than current screening methods, and does not require highly trained personnel to operate.
Omattage’s biosensor is not only applicable to screening for food contaminants, it may also be used to detect other harmful chemicals.
“To see young students from around the world develop innovative solutions to problems confronting society shows the true power of this international science fair,” said Intel Corporation Chairman Craig Barrett. “Sana, Natalie and Yi-Han demonstrate that dedication to science inquiry can transcend boundaries and show what we can accomplish when we focus on education and science.”
In addition to the three $50,000 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award winners, more than 500 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair participants received scholarships and prizes for their groundbreaking work. Intel awards included 18 “Best of Category” winners who each received a $5,000 Intel scholarship and a new laptop featuring the Intel Core2 Duo processor. For more information on each of these and other winners, visit www.intel.com/pressroom/kits/education/isef.
Sponsorship of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is one aspect of Intel’s multi-year, multi-million dollar global commitment to education. Intel has been committed to helping students realize the promise of education for decades. In the past decade alone, Intel has invested more than $1 billion worldwide to improve education. Today, Intel invests more than $100 million annually to promote education and technological literacy around the world.
Society for Science & the Public (formerly Science Service), a nonprofit organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, owns and has administered the International Science and Engineering Fair since its inception in 1950. Elizabeth Marincola, president of Society for Science & the Public said, “Inspired by their dedication to inquiry-based research, we celebrate the passion and incredible achievements of Natalie, Sana and Yi-Han. We are encouraged by the quality and depth of their work, and the hope it gives us for the future of our planet and our society.”
To learn more about Intel’s global commitment to education, visit www.intel.com/education. For broadcast quality video and photos please visit www.intel.com/pressroom. To learn more about Society for Science & the Public, visit www.societyforscience.org.
Intel, the world leader in silicon innovation, develops technologies, products and initiatives to continually advance how people work and live. Additional information about Intel is available at www.intel.com/pressroom and blogs.intel.com.