Science Students Show Experiments

Article excerpt

Max Kleckner discussed gamma rays, nuclear waste and other highbrow topics with high school seniors competing in the 57th annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search finals yesterday.

Max, an ambitious 9-year-old who wrote the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last month and told them to expect him in the future, plans to be a winner within the next decade.

He and an estimated 400 area residents walked through the 40 finalists' exhibits at the National Academy of Sciences at 21st and C streets NW.

An eight-person panel judged the entries from 15 states, which the students set up Friday.

Christopher Mihelich, a student from Indiana who started taking college math courses in eighth grade, won the first-place $40,000 scholarship.

The competition is funded by the Westinghouse Foundation and conducted by Science Service, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of science.

Discussing gamma rays with Oakland Mills High School senior Joshua Greene was no problem for Max, a red-haired, freckled-faced student from Arlington's Science Focus School.

The third-grader is a member of an astronomy club in Northern Virginia, so Joshua had an easier time explaining it to Max than reporters, supportive parents and some science buffs.

New stars are born every moment and Joshua is trying to prove that bursts of gamma rays, a high-intensity light energy, could be the reason why.

The problem is scientists don't know when the bursts happen or how far away they are.

Charting gamma rays on computers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Joshua worked to prove his theory.

"It could be the most powerful thing to occur since the Big Bang. It would help us understand the development of the universe better," the Columbia, Md., resident said.

Five Nobel Laureates have been Westinghouse winners. Ever wonder where they get their ideas?

"You have to develop your intuition," says Joshua. "It requires you to think differently." Sabyasachi Guharay, a senior at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, agrees.

"Sometimes you don't know how to solve a typical problem right away," said Sabyasachi, 17, whose project attempted to disprove the current notion of "junk DNA."

"Then you get a sudden flash of inspiration," he said, showing how he created computer programs to examine two types of DNA sequences - "exon" and "intron. …