The finalists for the 2010-2011 Intel contest

Finalists from the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search wait to hear who won the top prize. Evan O’Dorney of Danville, Calif., (bottom row, third from left) claimed the $100,000 prize. (Photo: laurabl/Flickr)



Updated 3.14: Nithin Tumma, 17, whose research could lead to less toxic and more effective breast cancer treatments, received the top award of $100,000. Read more about Tumma's research below.



It may seem that all high school kids do is text and update their Facebook status, but there are a few working to solve big problems. The projects tackled by the high school finalists of the Intel Science Talent Search 2012, a program of Society for Science & the Public, include alternative energy solutions, landmine detection technology, Internet security, water conservation and the battle against cancer with light.


The 40 finalists will gather in Washington, D.C., from March 8-13 for the final judging and to compete for awards totaling $630,000. The top winner will receive $100,000 from the Intel Foundation. 


“The U.S. needs these talented innovators to go as far and as fast as they can, solving the world’s most critical challenges, imagining — and creating — a new and better future for us all,” said Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation. “Math and science are the language and tools of this innovation — that’s why Intel is so proud to invest in these students, and to advance math and science education for all students.” 


If you're wondering how this gathering ranks among national science fairs, this one is one of the most prestigious. Science Talent Search alumni have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, three National Medals of Science, 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and even an Academy Award for Best Actress. Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for her performance in the “Black Swan,” was an Intel Science Talent Search semi-finalist in 1998.


Many of this year's projects have the potential to improve healthcare. Here's a look at some of the students who may be helping you live a longer, healthier life.


Nithin Reddy Tumma

Nithin Reddy TummaTumma, 17, measured protein levels in breast cancer cells to identify the role of one specific protein in the development of cancer. By defining the signaling pathways involved in a cancer cell becoming malignant, the research could lead to new treatments for cancer.


Tumma, who attends Port Huron Northern High School in Michigan, is a varsity tennis player and co-founder of the school robotics team.


Evan Matthew Chen

Evan Matthew ChenChen, 18, found a link between the level of the CD24 protein and changes in muscle cells. Chen’s research found that CD24 may increase the rate at which muscles regenerate — making in an element in a possible treatment for muscular dystrophy.


Chen, who lives in Plymouth, Minn., is a varsity tennis player and captain of the high school speech team. He is working to provide solar-powered headlamps to schools in Somalia so students can do their homework after sunset.

Amy Cindy Chyao

Amy Cindy ChyaoChyao, first in her class at Plano East Senior High School in Texas, found what could be a novel way of fighting cancer using light. Photodynamic therapy is an emerging cancer treatment with significant advantages over chemotherapy and radiation treatment. But, so far, its use is limited to surface tumors. Chyao’s research suggests a way to make cells more sensitive to light through use of a novel photosensitizer for photodynamic therapy using near-infrared light. The photosensitizer efficiently generates singlet oxygen, which kills cancer cells more effectively than other reactive oxygen species.


Chyao is also an accomplished cellist.

Dannielle Goldman

Dannielle GoldmanGoldman, 17, found that low levels of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) may play a role in Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in adolescents. GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain, allowing signals to travel from cell to cell in the brain. The research may lead to better diagnoses of the disorders.


Goldman, who attends the Bronx High School of Science, tutors children for whom English is a second language.


Siddhartha Gautama Jena

Siddhartha Gautama JenaJena, 18, conducted a three-year study that found high cholesterol hampered the ability of red blood cells to transport water, oxygen and carbon dioxide. The study also found that glyburide, a common treatment for Type II diabetes, and a compound called ONO-RS-O82 could counter those effects. The study may mean early diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients with elevated blood cholesterol levels.


Jena, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., also plays the piano and saxophone.

EunBe Kim

EunBe KimKim of Cresskil, N.J., may have found a new use for tamoxifen, a drug now used to treat breast cancer. Kim’s research found tamoxifen also inhibits the growth of Burkitt’s lymphoma cells, a cancer of the immune system. The research could result in cheaper treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma.


Kim, 19, works as a volunteer EMT and tutors elementary school students.


Savina Dine Kim

Savina Dine KimKim’s study on how neurotransmitters are produced and activated at the cellular level could contribute to the understanding of the cause of neuropsychiartic disorders such as schizophrenia and help design new drugs to treat such disorders.


Kim, 17, attends Commack High School in New York where she is captain of the fencing team. Kim also teaches cello.

Jack Zhihao Li

Jack Zhihoa LiLi, 18, of El Segundo, Calif., developed a nano-scale capsule that patients swallow for use in an enzyme-based treatment for phenylketonuria, a genetic disease that causes severe mental retardation. Taking an enzyme can treat the condition, but that enzyme is quickly broken down in the stomach and small intestine. The capsule developed by Li is designed to pass safely through. The capsule could lead to more effective treatment of phenylketonuria and similar metabolic diseases.


Li owns and operates a musical instrument sales company and funds a scholarship program for students in China with some of the profits. He is editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper.


Intel has sponsored the program for 14 years. The Society for Science and the Public, a nonprofit organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, has owned and administered the Science Talent Search since its inception in 1942.


To meet more of the finalists, who tackled a diversity of topics, learn more at the Intel site.