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High Schooler Is Awarded $100,000 For Research 287

Posted by Zonk
from the never-too-early-to-be-a-girl-genius dept.
wired_LAIN writes "A teenager from Oklahoma was awarded $100,000 in the Intel Science Talent Search competition for building an inexpensive and accurate spectrograph that can identify the specific characteristics of different kinds of molecules. While normal spectrographs can cost between $20,000 and $100,000 to build, her spectrograph cost less than $500. The 40 finalists' projects were judged by a panel of 12 scientists, all well established in their respective fields. Among the judges were Vera Rubin, who proved Dark Matter, and Andrew Yeager, one of the pioneers of stem cell research."
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High Schooler Is Awarded $100,000 For Research

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  • I bet! (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by guysmilee (720583)
    I bet! Mom & Dad never helped at all!
    • Re:I bet! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rifter (147452) on Friday March 16, 2007 @04:31PM (#18380029) Homepage

      I bet! Mom & Dad never helped at all!

      I honestly don't see why this is flamebait. It could have been said in a better way, especially since it seems to have been misunderstood. It is important for people to understand that parents and social/economic status matter when it comes to academic and scientific achievement, especially in the type of school system we have. That's not to say that individual effort is not needed in the more positive cases or that it cannot overcome the negative cases. But it is true that the more tools you have in life and the better and more stable your learning environment is the easier it is to achieve something. It does not mean that this person's achievement was any less spectacular, just as it is still awesome that John Nash was doing Calculus at age 7 even though the fact his parents were academics who encouraged their son and exposed him to everything he seemed able to handle or have an interest in when he showed interest.

      John Nash growing up in an abusive home where no textbooks were available and learning was frowned upon would have a tough row to hoe even as a genius that he was. He would probably be able to achieve a lot because of his drive and intellectual fortitude, but you never know. Not only would he have to overcome the negative aspects of his upbringing, he would not have some of the formative experiences that led him on the path he ended up on. He might not learn to read at an early age because neither his parents nor the public school would encourage reading at an early age or advancing in that skill. He also might not therefore have read _Men_of_Mathematics_ which was the book that most inspired him to become a mathemetician. Perhaps between a bad upbringing and the mental problems he had, he would have ended up in that negative feedback loop so many left behind children find themselves in, where the outside world (especially school, their parents, and other students) gives them a constant reinforcement of the idea that they are "no good" or substandard and will never achieve anything, and their own struggles, when they find the strength to struggle, seem to reinforce it as well and lend fodder to the fire until they either lapse into a kind of apathy toward achievement or take the further course of attempting to achieve something completely negative (addict, prostitute, thug, etc).

      Children need encouragement and guidance to grow properly and it is proven that the more successful children in school tend also to be those students whose parents are most involved in their education, and vice versa. Parents that don't have or take time for working with their kids or for whatever reason don't give the right kind of structure and experience for a healthy childhood will tend to have children with problems in school. This is what educators have been telling us, too. I think reform is necessary for the system, and I know parents are resistant to any suggestion that they could have anything to do with problems they have with their children, but consider the fact that this is the portion of the equation parents are most able to change.

      It is obvious to me that whereas this person was clearly gifted they also had parents who supported her endeavours. In fact she is quoted in TFA:

      Masterman said she has been interested in science "ever since I was little. I can't remember ever not being interested." She credits her parents with encouraging her.

      Poorly stated I will give you, but what the poster said was true and was probably not meant as flamebait. It does not seem like flamebait to me.

  • This nation... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Needs a thousand more students like her! Way to go!
    • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:58AM (#18375987)
      I can practically hear the shipping containers being filled in Beijing with $199 combination laser pointer/spectrographs as we speak!

      I have to remember to pick one up at Costco when we go next week.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Seq (653613)

        I have to remember to pick one up at Costco when we go next week.

        What are you going to do with a dozen spectrographs?

        • Build a set for the next CSI? They have so much equipment in local labs on those shows, you'd think spectrographs were always $300.
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Needs a thousand more students like her!

        I can practically hear the shipping containers being filled in Beijing [...]

        Was it just me, or was anyone else thinking of human trafficking at that point? Bring in a thousand students like her...
        • by jdray (645332)

          Was it just me, or was anyone else thinking of human trafficking at that point?

          It was just you, sorry.

    • Well, I welcome our spectrograph designing high school overlords
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by shbazjinkens (776313)
      I know a guy that went to her high school. He was expelled and served with terrorism charges when a rocket demonstration went bad and set a field on fire. School officials claimed he was trying to burn the school down?
       
      With schools like that, Oklahoma can't lose! I laud her for her devotion to science, because I know exactly what kind of barriers and punishments there are for that kind of devotion here. Until that changes, girls and boys like her will continue to be extremely rare.
    • Except she'll probably go on to law school
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:27AM (#18375521) Homepage Journal
    I want to see how she did it.
    • by quanminoan (812306) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:51AM (#18375889)
      This link [sciserv.org] provides a little more information.
    • Instructions [chemeducator.org]

      I've seen this story on other sites, and it really pisses me off. She didn't do anything other than just build something off already-published instructions. I'm not impressed. At all. Anyone could build one of these in an afternoon. It's harder to assemble a coffee table from IKEA.

      In fact, I'd definitely say it was by far the least impressive out of all the winning projects. At least the other ones involved some sort of thought.
  • dark matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hemogoblin (982564) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:29AM (#18375549)

    Among the judges were Vera Rubin , who proved Dark Matter

    Nitpick: That should probably read "provided evidence for the existence dark matter."
    • by PhxBlue (562201)

      Well, yeah, and the headline should probably read "High School Scholar," but who's counting?

    • by Tim C (15259)
      Nitpick: That should probably read "provided evidence for the existence dark matter."

      Nitpick of nitpick: That should probably read "provided evidence for the existence of dark matter."
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by itamblyn (867415)
      This isn't true though, typos aside. She saw a distribution of velocities in galaxies that was not consistent with the visible mass. This means that either there is extra mass in those galaxies, or the laws that govern their motion are not fully understood. She provides no evidence one way or the other. The existence of dark matter is still an open question (though people are leaning towards it).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by SlashSquatch (928150)
      Dark matter is proven only to be a questionable accounting practice.

      The existence of dark matter is proven only to be a very nice way to invoke feelings of mystery in the hearts of grant application reviewers.

  • That is SO COOL. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Archeopteryx (4648)
    As an ex science fair participant, I cannot begin to say how cool this is.
  • "Awarded" or "Paid"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by timeOday (582209) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:34AM (#18375607)
    Does she keep the rights to her invention, or does somebody else get ownership of them? This sounds like a potentially valuable invention.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Valuable in the same way a $10-60 microscope works more or less the same way as a $2,000 one with Zeiss lenses. Or a profilometer being made from $200 in parts. iow, she didn't really invent anything, but put together a device for cheaper.

      I don't disagree the $100,000 commercial devices could be made substantially cheaper, probably 10-fold. But most of those devices are calibrated, certified back to NIST metrological standards, include sweeping warranty and support, and probably a software library for in
      • by QuasiEvil (74356) on Friday March 16, 2007 @01:23PM (#18377365)
        As a former Westinghouse STS finalist (back in 1995, before it became the Intel STS), you get to keep all rights. The cash is just the prize for being top in the nation. It literally is just prize money, or at least was back then. I wouldn't think things have changed that much, as some of the research I was competing with had applications far more valuable than $100k. There's also a lot of other perks - academic offers and scholarships to all sorts of interesting institutions, trips, resume padding, etc.
      • Well, first of all, you can buy a handheld, brand new, professionally built Raman spectrometer for less than $10K.

        All it is, is a laser and a camera. You shine the laser on the sample, and measure the light intensity from a right angle. It is a small feat. Very small.
  • Not bad (Score:5, Funny)

    by L. VeGas (580015) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:34AM (#18375615) Homepage Journal
    That's okay, I guess. Personally, I really liked the totally rad volcano that used baking soda and vinegar to actually erupt!
  • Strap this thing on a rocket. $500 million to send a probe to mars? I bet we could do it for $250,000, maybe be less if it leaves on a tuesday.
  • Other winners (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jotok (728554) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:45AM (#18375789)
    From the Intel Science Talent Search [sciserv.org] website:

    Second Place: John Pardon, 17, of Chapel Hill, N.C., solved a classical open problem in differential geometry
    Third Place: Dmitry Vaintrob, 18, of Eugene, Ore., proved that loop homology and Hochschild cohomology coincide for an important class of spaces
    Fourth Place: Catherine Schlingheyde, 17, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., for her research on microRNA repression
    Fifth Place: Rebecca Kaufman, 17, of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., for her study of the effects of male hormones in a model of schizophrenia
    Sixth Place: Gregory Brockman, 18, of Thompson, N.D., for his mathematics project that provided a thorough analysis of Ducci sequences
    Seventh Place: Megan Blewett, 17, of Madison, N.J., for her analysis of a protein that may be implicated in multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
    Eighth Place: Daniel Handlin, 18, of Lincroft, N.J., for developing an accurate, low-cost method of determining the position of geo-stationary Earth-orbit (GEO) satellites
    Ninth Place: Meredith MacGregor, 18, of Boulder, Colo., for her research on the fluid dynamics of the "Brazil Nut Effect"
    Tenth Place: Emma Call, 18, of Baltimore, Md., for the fabrication of 3-D microcubes
    I'm amazed at what these kids were able to accomplish. How much support did they have? What schools do they attend? How much money were they granted to accomplish their research?

    In any case, I have two thoughts on this:
    One, good teachers and money can't make stupid kids smart, but they sure as hell can enable really smart kids to shine. I wonder how this ties in with Bill Gates' recent announcements concerning the state of science and math education in American schools.

    Two, I notice a complete lack of representation by the "soft" sciences. Is it because the people writing the grants share the same disdain for disciplines that lack explanatory power as everyone else, or is it because it's easier to set up a biology program than a sociology program? I suspect a little of both--you probably need far more social context than an 18-year-old will have to pursue studies of voter demographics (not to mention the data acq is probably beyond their capabilities).

    But some of that context used to be handled by education as well--you had to read the classics, you had to study some philosophy, you had to know history. My aero engineer friend has really never done any of that, so he's an engineer who doesn't know what "empiricism" means. Is this also a failing by our educational system? Isn't such education necessary to be a good researcher?
    • by CommandNotFound (571326) on Friday March 16, 2007 @12:03PM (#18376053)
      ...Anyone know if there's a "Loop Homology and Hochschild Cohomology for Dummies" out yet?

      Holy cow, these kids are off the charts! And I was impressed with the GW-BASIC database I wrote in high school. It looks like something Homer Simpson built compared to that...
    • Re:Other winners (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jcgf (688310) on Friday March 16, 2007 @12:14PM (#18376253)

      But some of that context used to be handled by education as well--you had to read the classics, you had to study some philosophy, you had to know history. My aero engineer friend has really never done any of that, so he's an engineer who doesn't know what "empiricism" means. Is this also a failing by our educational system? Isn't such education necessary to be a good researcher?

      It goes the other way too. Ask a philosophy student to explain lift and drag and see how far you get.

      • by AoT (107216)
        I'd imagine that a philosophy student would be the most prepared for that sort of thing, but philosophy is the closest to the hard sciences in terms of intellectual rigor.

        You ever use symbolic logic?

        Ever take a metaphysics class?

        None of that easy humanities fluff writing.
      • Easiest way to explain lift to a layman is using Bernoulli's principles dealing with differential pressure...in the case of an airplane, the shape of a wing creates an area of lower pressure above the wing resulting in an upward force perpendicular to the flow of air.

        Drag is the measure of the friction on an object as it moves through a fluid. Basically, it's the force that acts perpendicular to the force of lift, so where lift is generated perpendicular to the line of travel of an object through a fluid, d
      • by lawpoop (604919)
        "But some of that context used to be handled by education as well--you had to read the classics, you had to study some philosophy, you had to know history. My aero engineer friend has really never done any of that, so he's an engineer who doesn't know what "empiricism" means. Is this also a failing by our educational system? Isn't such education necessary to be a good researcher?

        It goes the other way too. Ask a philosophy student to explain lift and drag and see how far you get.
        "

        Yes, but the requirement
      • Ask a philosophy student to explain lift and drag and see how far you get.
        Even better than that, ask a philosophy student if an airplane is placed on a treadmill...
    • Re:Other winners (Score:5, Interesting)

      by i_should_be_working (720372) on Friday March 16, 2007 @12:15PM (#18376269)
      So 6 out of the top 10 are females. What the hell happens after high school? Maybe things are just getting better with this generation.

      Unrelated. Usually with some high level math theory title I understand the individual words by themselves, but not all together. But that 3rd place title. Holy crap. 3 words I've never even heard of.
      • by tool462 (677306)
        5 of those 6 appear to be related to medicine or biology. I think those are two fields where women are not underrepresented in the work force currently.
        • Interestingly, at the Ohio State physics prospectives grad students weekend a while back, of the two women who attended (out of 19 total), one was primarily interested in biophysics. Of the women in physics I know at my undergrad, one is going into physics education research, one is going to teach high school physics, one is going to go to med school, and the remaining one, I don't know what she's planning on doing. There are a couple of others who I don't know very well. Women make up about half of our
          • by tool462 (677306)
            That was approximately my experience too. There weren't many women in my Physics grad program, and the ones there were leaned towards hybrid fields like materials physics or chemistry/physics, with their ultimate interest in medical applications.
      • by DrCode (95839)
        Unrelated. Usually with some high level math theory title I understand the individual words by themselves, but not all together. But that 3rd place title. Holy crap. 3 words I've never even heard of.

        It's algebraic topology, usually taught at the graduate-school level.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by apathy maybe (922212)
      Two, I notice a complete lack of representation by the "soft" sciences. Is it because the people writing the grants share the same disdain for disciplines that lack explanatory power as everyone else, or is it because it's easier to set up a biology program than a sociology program? I suspect a little of both--you probably need far more social context than an 18-year-old will have to pursue studies of voter demographics (not to mention the data acq is probably beyond their capabilities).

      Perhaps because "sof
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by indigest (974861)
      You will find that there is an interesting correlation every year between the Research Science Institute [mit.edu] participants and the Intel STS winners. RSI is a program that is run in cooperation with MIT where high school students spend their summer before senior year doing research with MIT professors. Intel has even noticed the connection and they have a page [intel.com] on it. Out of the list of top ten Intel STS winners, the following were at RSI in 2006:

      Mary Masterman (1)
      Dmitry Vaintrob (3)
      Megan Blewett (7)
    • In general, most of the students came from magnet schools that you have to test into. These schools sometimes have relationships with local universities or labs, so there are research progams avaliable to the students. I think the average timeframe for the research was about a year, with some people spending more time (the 7th place winner spent 4 years on her research!) and some people spending less. Also, several students worked completely on their own (like the ninth place winner, she built and concieved
    • Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems rare that these kinds of kids keep improving at the same rate. Is it politics that are involved in working in organizations that cause this drop off in rate of improvement? Or maybe I just expect too much. Perhaps the problems are just too hard beyond this level.
    • I am most impressed with the tools today's students have at their disposal. Yes, these are awesome research triumphs but many of these would not have been accessible to students even 5 years ago.

      And no, I'm taking nothing away from these kids or trivializing them. But these projects kinda "fit the times", if you will. They have powerful computers, mature math and stats packages, and most of all...they are in many cases extending research topics available through the free exchange of information on the In
    • by James McP (3700)
      I suspect a little of both--you probably need far more social context than an 18-year-old will have to pursue studies of voter demographics (not to mention the data acq is probably beyond their capabilities).

      Nahh, it's well within their capabilities in the information age. As long as the student has access to a decent GIS application, there are scadloads of census-type data available. Mixing geospatial and temporal data is something that any teenager capable of a SQL query can pull off.

      I think it wa

  • by Somegeek (624100) on Friday March 16, 2007 @11:50AM (#18375871)
    From her biography on sciserv.org:

    "Her Littrow spectrograph splits light, like a prism, and uses a camera to record the resulting Raman spectra - a specific vibrational fingerprint of the molecular compound being investigated. Using a laser as her light source, Mary tested several household objects and solvents and compared her results to published wave numbers. Despite the shortcomings of the inexpensive laser, she found she could make relatively accurate wavelength measurements with her homemade device."

    • by jackbird (721605)
      Her Littrow spectrograph splits light, like a prism, and uses a camera to record the resulting Raman spectra

      Well, there's most of the cost savings right there - she used Ramen!

    • Her spectrograph records Raman spectra. In the industry we're more apt to use IR, NMR, and UV. Maybe the invention of an affordable tabletop unit will advance the application of Raman technology.
  • Whatever... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Udigs (1072138)
    Gee, I built a mass spectromoter at my High School science fair 12 years ago. My family didn't have 500 bucks to blow on a science fair project so I had to do it for under $50 and whatever handouts I could get for free from local college professors. Funny, all I got was first place at the county science fair. Though, 100,000 bucks would have been much nicer, and actually paid for the second year of the ivy league school I had to drop out of because I couldn't afford it.
  • I think she and the other contest winners should be put into a forced breeding program. We need more genes like hers in the pool.
  • 1. Build Spectrograph for $500
    2. Sell for $10,000
    3. Profit!

    • Well, in fact its not that easy.
      For example, your cheap diode laser is temperature dependent. As the (anti)stokes raman lines are energy shifts from the baseline, using a normal laser will give you different callibrations for different energies. So you want a temperature stabilized one (e.g. thermoelectric cooling with feedback loop).
      Now you got 1k instead of 500.
      Same goes for the prisma. You really want a grating, for good results. $2k.

      Then every single one has to be calibrated and tested.
      And then you actu
  • by retrosurf (570180) on Friday March 16, 2007 @12:32PM (#18376557)
    All the boys worked on mathematics based tasks, and
    all the girls were working on physical sciences, or
    at least more applied problems.

    Well, there's that one well rounded kid that applied
    mathematics to the triangulation of geosynchronous
    satellites, but the other guys were heavy math geeks.
  • by cheeto (128748) on Friday March 16, 2007 @12:36PM (#18376621) Homepage
    ... and thought to myself, "$500 would build you one hell of a Spirograph, but your older brother is still just going to throw the gears at you like a ninja star."
  • My brain exploded when I got to "Loop homology is difficult to compute, but Mitka showed that in many cases it is isomorphic to the Hochschild cohomology of the fundamental group."

  • it's seventh grade gym locker room all over again.

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman

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