Sreyas Misra, 17, knows a lot about competition. He is surrounded by high-achieving classmates at the Harker School in San Jose and they are all vying for acceptance at the country's top universities. His biggest challenge is days away, when he competes against 39 others in the Intel Science Talent Search in Washington and faces tough questions.
"This is going to emphasize a lot of the fundamentals that we learn in the classroom, and things like that, like the scientific method, and they want to see if you can think like a scientist," Sreyas told ABC7 News.
That makes it difficult to prepare. The judges will already know about his research to make a lower-cost, hand-held PET scanner to diagnose disease. Often done in conjunction with CAT scans, his goal is to make it more accessible to clinics that can't afford the multi-million dollar cost.
"Conventional PET scanners use coincidence induction which requires detectors on both sides of the patient. Compton collimation would require detectors on just one side of the patient, so that could make it a lot smaller, and by making it a lot smaller, you significantly reduce the cost," Sreyas explained.
Sreyas says he gets inspired by his physics and research project teacher, Chris Spenner. "He was enrolled in my class where we often do weekly readings of modern research articles, and no matter what the science subject was, he had something interesting to say. He had a great sense of humor about it. He could be himself while grappling with the science," Spenner said.
On top of taking differential calculus, debate, and Latin, Sreyas is also a lab assistant at the Stanford School of Medicine Molecular Image Program. Last year, he was given a project normally assigned to Ph.D students.
His professor, Craig Levin, says his work so far is spectacular. "The internal drive that Sreyas has cannot be taught or forced. It has to come from within," he said.
Only 10 students will win cash prizes. The awards ceremony is next Tuesday.