26 students named Intel Science semifinalists

January 12, 2011 7:18:49 PM PST
A total of 26 Bay Area high school students learned Wednesday morning that they have become semifinalists in the annual Intel Science Talent Search competition. Each will receive a $1,000 check from Intel and will join a field of 300 to compete for the finals with prizes up to $100,000.

The Harker Academy in San Jose this year has a record-setting seven semifinalists.

A two-person Intel prize patrol team showed up at 10:30 Wednesday morning at Lynbrook High School in San Jose where there were four semifinalists. Their names are kept secret until the surprise announcement at an assembly. However, their parents were notified about a week ago and were hiding behind a curtain on the stage until the names were revealed.

Andrew Ma said he had put in two full summers and the equivalent of a 40-hour work week on his prize winning project, which focused on how light affects plant growth. He hopes to continue his research at MIT or Stanford. His work might someday boost crop yield.

Roy Rocklin, an advanced placement chemistry teacher at Lynbrook, said this group of semifinalists shares a passion for science that probably started at a young age. Winner Jennifer Chen confirmed that, saying that as a youngster she became inquisitive about the pleasant fragrance of soap and tried to study whether there was a corresponding quality to its taste. Anyone who has ever eaten soap can attest, such a correlation probably does not exist. However, Jennifer has moved to a higher level of scientific research. Her winning project focused on batching DNA tests to help clear up a backlog of human identification cases by criminologists.

Each semifinalist received a $1,000 check, but their selection will have a long-term payoff. Just ask Moriah Nachbaur. She was a finalist in the Intel competition in 2004 while a senior at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough. Today she is a project manager at Genentech after studying at Harvard.

"It's an investment that vests well over time, I would say; it's tremendous to have that experience going into college, I think it can really form your course selection and then again, it's a way to differentiate yourself at a very young age," she said.

Not all of the semifinalists named Wednesday will end up becoming finalists, but it is clear that many of them are on a very distinct career path that will lead to significant contributions to society.