It must be something in Silver Spring’s water. But leave that to Montgomery Blair High School’s Westinghouse Science Talent Search semifinalists to figure out.
The school’s number of semifinalists ranks fourth in the nation. Only 300 were selected from 1,652 entries in the 1997 search. Fifteen were from Maryland. Of those, nine are at Blair.
Sarah Henrickson and Manish Shah, both Blair seniors, were excited but not surprised by their school’s fortune.
“I am proud of Blair High School and the magnet program,” Shah said. The program is responsible for Shah and Henrickson’s internships, the basis of their research.
Said Henrickson: “The competition is an incredible opportunity.”
Jonetta Russell, research coordinator for Blair’s magnet program, said that since 1989 the school has had 48 Westinghouse semi-finalists. Sixteen students have made the finals, and seven have won scholarships.
Blair’s magnet program focuses on math, computer science and science. One-hundred students begin the program as freshmen each year. They spend the summer before their senior year interning at various area research centers.
Shah, 17, interned at the Naval Medical Research Institute, in Bethesda, and Henrickson, 17, was at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg. Both conducted research. And like other interns, they devoted the fall to writing a 20-page scientific analysis.
Of this year’s seniors, 24 entered the talent search, Russell said.
The Westinghouse competition is described on its Web page as “America’s oldest and most highly regarded precollege science contest.” Five finalists have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Two have earned the Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent to the Nobel.
Westinghouse Electric Corporation, through the Westinghouse Foundation, has sponsored the search with Science Service, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, since the competition’s inception in 1942.
Over the years, more then 114,000 students have completed independent research projects and submitted entries. Each consists of a written description of the student’s research and evidence of student’s creativity and interest in science.
Shah’s interest in both science and ancestry led him to his research. “Indian Genetic Ancestry Using Human Leukocyte Antigens” focused on the difficulty Eastern Indians have in receiving organ transplants from non-Indians. Shah, who is Indian, determined how Eastern Indian blood related to “Caucasian, Negro and Mongoloid” blood.
Henrickson hopes her research on “Characterization of DNA with a Protein Ion Channel” will help determine what different genes do. This in turn could help scientists pinpoint which genes cause diseases, such Sickle Cell Anemia. And that understanding could lead to cures.
Blair’s other semifinalists include David Hu, Vishal Kapur, Sorabh Maheshwari, Carl Miller, Gautam Mukunda, Arun Vemury and Adrienne Wiley.
Each semifinalists received a letter of recognition from the principal, Phillip Gainous, who said their achievements make him feel “proud of the positive recognition.”
On Monday, 40 finalists will be selected from among the semifinalists. They will travel in March to Washington, D.C., where they will undergo final judging. On the basis of interviews, the top 10 finalists will be selected. The top winner receives a four-year, $40,000 college scholarship.
Since Westinghouse began, Maryland has produced 58 finalists. The rest of Maryland’s semifinalists this year include Aaron Bodoh-Creed of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Andrea Baines of Damascus High School in Damascus, Sam Jahanmir of Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, David Lee of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Boris Zbarsky of Thomas Sprigg Wooten High School in Rockville and John Verde of Arundel Senior High School in Gambrills. -30-