Two Blair students named Intel finalists

Jan. 26, 2006, midnight | By Ekta Taneja | 17 years, 1 month ago

Blazers represent Montgomery County in competition

Two Blair students were named 2006 Intel Science Talent Search (STS) finalists in a Jan. 25 Intel press release.

Seniors Minh-Phuong Huynh-Le and Chelsea Zhang were among 40 students nationwide to advance to the final round of STS, one of the oldest competitions open to high school students interested in scientific research.

Although the press release was published online at 1:00 p.m. on Jan. 25, the finalists heard the good news the night before in a nationwide conference call. Following the announcement, Huynh-Le was in a state of disbelief. "I really can't believe it," she said. "[The results] were really surprising and really unexpected."

Magnet research teacher Glenda Torrence, however, sat on the edge of her seat awaiting the press release. "My hair gets whiter every time we approach these [announcement] deadlines," she said. "I get more and more wound up." After reading the results, though, her excitement knew no bounds. "I am thrilled out of my mind," she said, grinning. "I know Minh and Chelsea are really excited, and that generates more excitement. They both had excellent projects and well-written papers."

Although only two of the 12 Blair semifinalists, selected on Jan. 11, advanced to the final round, Zhang said that all the semifinalists' projects were worthy of recognition. "I am excited and glad that those 10- to 12-hour workdays over the summer have paid off," Zhang said. "I was disappointed that more people did not get finalist standing."

Torrence agreed, mentioning that all 12 semifinalist projects were excellent. "I was a little disappointed [that Intel] did not go a little further with recognizing students, because there were a couple of other papers I thought were particularly exceptional," she said.

The projects

Huynh-Le conducted a chemistry project, "Toward Understanding the Global Carbon Cycle: The Response of Soil Organic Matter to Changes in Forest Density and Flora." In layman's terms, the project analyzed "the implications of forest thinning and reintroduction of native species in a forest on soil organic matter composition," according to Huynh-Le. She sought to find a correlation between "forest ecosystem management practices and the impacts on soil ecological processes and then global carbon cycle."

In contrast to Huynh-Le's environment-oriented study, Zhang's project focused on a cardiovascular subject, "Oxidized LDL Metabolites Upregulate Expression of the Adhesion Molecule CX3CL1 in Primary Coronary Artery Smooth Muscle Cells." According to Zhang, she "investigated one of the driving forces behind atherosclerosis. Bad cholesterol increases the number of CX3CL1 molecules on smooth muscle cells, causing them to stick to monocytes, or white blood cells." Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease that involves the build up of plaque in the arteries – it's the primary basis of cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death in the Western hemisphere, Zhang said.

Scholarship awards

The Science Service started STS in 1942 in an effort to encourage high school students to consider careers in "science, math, engineering and medicine," according to the Science Service web site. The top 300 entries of thousands received are selected as semifinalists in mid-January. Forty finalists are chosen from the pool in late January to attend the Science Talent Institute, the last round of judging, in early March.

This year, the Institute will be held from March 9 to March 14, culminating in a black-tie gala where the top ten winners will be announced. During the Institute week, finalists will meet with judges and undergo rigorous sessions with a panel of distinguished scientists specializing in a variety of areas.

In addition, the finalists will have opportunities to interact with each other and establish academic relationships with students from across the United States. "I'm excited about going to D.C., hearing about what other people around the country did and learning about their projects," Huynh-Le said.

A total of $530,000 will be awarded in scholarship money; the grand prize is a $100,000 scholarship. Finalists receive $5,000 scholarships accompanied by an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. and a laptop. Semifinalists each received $1,000 in scholarship money.

Tradition of distinction

The two Blazers were the only finalists from Montgomery County, accompanied by two other Maryland finalists from Baltimore and Clarksville. A student from Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia was also selected.

The Blair Magnet program has never had fewer than two Intel finalists. Last year, Blair boasted thirteen semifinalists. A Blair record high of four finalists advanced – Michael Forbes, Abby Fraeman, Sherri Geng and Justin Kovac. Kovac came in seventh place, winning a $25,000 scholarship. Former Blair students Gordon Su, Anatoly Preygel and Alan Mark Dunn also made the top ten in 2004, 2003 and 2001, respectively.

Huynh-Le credits Blair Magnet students' success to Torrence, who teaches the required Magnet Research class. "Dr. Torrence guided us through the process of doing research and led us through the initial stages, such as proposal writing and presenting a proposal to a group of scientists," Huynh-Le explained. "She helped [the students] the most in getting ready for the environment we would be working in [for our research projects]."

While research opportunities are open to all students, the Magnet program's research class focuses students' efforts throughout the process of conducting a project. "I keep kids on task, beat them about deadlines, whine at them, yell at them," Torrence said. "But if you're going to evaluate who is inherent to their success, you need to start with ninth grade."

Until the Institute convenes and the final top ten are announced, both finalists will be reviewing their subject matter and presentations and arranging meetings with their mentors. "Basically, it's another wait for a decision," Zhang said.

Huynh-Le agreed, adding that the wait, for her, inevitably leads to anxiety. "I'm nervous, very nervous," she admitted, "but I'm kind of looking forward to it."

For the Intel press release, click here.

For the complete list of Intel finalists, click here.

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Ekta Taneja. Ekta Taneja is a magnet <b>senior</b> with a passion for SCO, books and rugged-looking fighters from all universes and time periods. She's a modest poet with an unappeasable thirst for cinnamon-sprinkled hot chocolate overloaded with whipped cream and richly-flavored pina coladas that come with cute … More »

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