Math Enthusiast Wins Science Talent Search

Article excerpt

What a birthday. On March 8, the day he turned 17, Christopher Mihelich of Carmel, Ind., learned he'd won the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and a $40,000 college scholarship.

When the prize was announced, the other finalists and the audience at the awards ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.--a crowd with many distinguished scientists, including a Nobel laureate--burst out singing "Happy Birthday." Mihelich says the top honor surprised him; winners were announced starting with 10th place, and by fourth place he had given up hope. One of three mathematicians among the top 10 winners, he entered a paper proposing new methods for studying polynomial quotient rings.

Second prize, a $30,000 scholarship, went to Ravi Shah of Tempe, Ariz. He investigated repair genes from tumors that resist various cancer drugs. He had previously won honors in chemistry and math, and he placed first in his state, and third in the United States, in the National Spanish Exam.

Parker Conrad of New York took third place and a $20,000 scholarship. He compared the activities of two types of receptors in developing and mature nerve cells. In ninth grade, he started a computer consulting business, and he has understudied a role in a Broadway musical.

Fourth- through sixth-place winners received scholarships of $15,000 each.

Fourth-place winner Sohini Ramachandran of Fair Oaks, Calif., analyzed short sequences of DNA from American and Old World plant populations to determine whether the species could have spread with migrating humans. At 15, she was the youngest winner this year.

Travis Schedler of Carbondale, Ill., captured fifth place with his project on the quantum Yang-Baxter equation, which has implications for various fields of physics. His music inspires his mathematics, and he has performed in jazz choirs. …