San Jose high school students finalists in Intel Science Talent Search

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Three local students are among the 40 finalists nationwide for the Intel Science Prize contest in Washington.

It's been called the Nobel Prize of high school science. Out of 40 finalists nationwide for the Intel Science Talent Search, three come from a school in San Jose.

They're just ordinary teenagers doing extraordinary research. "I discovered one gene in particular, called the WOX gene that could have a link to colorectal cancer," Steven Wang said.

Wang is a finalist in the contest for a project that's intensely personal. "My father was diagnosed with colon cancer and so I really wanted to kind of find out the basis of this disease," he said.

Wang is just doing what his school taught him to do, which is follow his passion.

"They seek out mentors and are supported to really go as far as they can go," Christopher Nicoloff said.

It may be why the Harker School has not one, but three finalists in what may be the most prestigious contest in high school science.

They're not just smart, they're true lovers of science. "I guess from a very small age, I've been really, really, interested in evolution," Andrew Jin said.

Jin got the idea to study ancient DNA with modern technology. "I made this really effective computational tool using artificial intelligence approaches to train computers to think like scientists," Jin said.

He's figuring out how people evolved to resist certain infections, while his classmate Rohith Kuditipudi studies a modern medical problem. Fatty liver disease is on the rise and it can lead to more serious conditions, so Kuditipudi is studying human genes to figure out why.

Along with the others, he'll present his findings at Intel's finals in Washington, D.C. "By making science glamorous for high schoolers to an extent, it gets so many high schoolers thinking about science," Kuditipudi said.

For many of the Intel finalists, the trip to Washington, D.C., is just the beginning. They have their whole futures ahead of them and this is a pretty good head start.

In 2006, Harker School student Yi Sun claimed second place in Intel's contest, for an equation that brought order to seemingly random movement.

He went to Harvard and finished that degree. "I spent a year in Cambridge doing a master's degree. So after that, I decided to come to MIT to do my PhD in math," Sun said.

Now a year from becoming Dr. Sun, he told ABC7 News, he still thinks about that trip to Washington. "I felt like the best part of that whole experience was meeting the other finalists. I'm still in touch with many of them to this day," he said.

They all have bright young minds and they're all winners in their own right.

"From what I can tell, they're not just doing this to get a prize, they really are trying to contribute to the field," Harker School physics and research teacher Christopher Spenner said.
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