Blair freshman is Discovery finalist

Nov. 13, 2003, midnight | By Sreela Namboodiri | 17 years, 2 months ago

After reading about car accidents caused by elderly drivers or drivers talking on cell phones, freshman Tony Burnetti decided that something had to change.

Combining his strong interest in neuroscience with his concern for public safety into a science project, Burnetti measured the effects of multitasking and aging on driving ability.

The science project won him first place in his division at the Montgomery County Science Fair in March and a prestigious High-Flyer Award at the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge, held in Washington, D.C., from Oct 18 to Oct 22.

Burnetti joined leading young scientists from around the country for a competition at Ronald Reagan National Airport to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' historic discovery of flight. He was selected as a finalist from 2,000 applicants in 47 states.

At the fifth annual event, Burnetti and his four teammates took on such challenges as piloting remote-controlled, multi-rotor helicopters and propelling a five-gallon water jug down a 50-foot track by creating explosive jet fuel from five types of alcohol.

For the challenge, Burnetti's team had trouble lighting the alcohol vapors to make the "jet fuel." They stuck the end of the water bottle full of jet fuel near the electric match, waiting for the jet fuel to light. "That's when I thought to point the electric match directly into the bucket so all the sparks would get to the actual fuel and not the vapors," said Burnetti. "And then it went ‘hum' right to the end!"

The finalists were also given the chance to present their regional-winning projects before the general public at the National Academy of Sciences.

Ralph Bunday, Burnetti's magnet physics teacher, praised Burnetti's intellectual promise as a young scientist. "A lot of times, as teachers, when dealing with your own subject, you just don't realize how serious many of your students really are to their passion or to their own muse," he said. "It's both surprising and enlightening."

With the fun-filled four-day weekend still fresh on his mind the day after returning from the competition, Burnetti said he does not mind that he did not place in the top ten in the Discovery Challenge. "I'm just happy to have been one of the finalists," he remarked.

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Sreela Namboodiri. Sreela, who is now a SENIOR, especially enjoys walking around with her feet, dancing in front of her mirror to techno, taking cold showers and playing with her imaginary bulldog, Big Mac. She hopes to one day learn how to play guitar correctly, start a … More »

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