COLLEGE PARK – A 14-year-old from Texas was named America’s Top Young Scientist in a national science competition for middle schoolers Wednesday evening.
Neela Thangada, of San Antonio, beat out 39 other finalists to win the top prize of a $20,000 college scholarship in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge, which took place at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House this week.
Joanna C. Guy, a 14-year-old freshman at Southern High School in Garrett County, was one of those finalists.
Joanna, from Oakland, Md., made it to the finals with a unique social science project about educational expectations that she devised when she was an eighth-grader at Southern Middle School.
Brought together for the finals, 19 girls and 21 boys worked in teams of five to tackle challenges based on the theme “Forces of Nature.” The teams had 90 minutes to complete each challenge, and Neela was chosen as the winner based on her performance in these challenges.
The theme for the seventh annual competition was inspired by the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia last year.
“Sadly, it had a lot more relevance after the hurricane season,” said Donald A. Baer, the Discovery Communications executive in charge of the national challenge.
Finalists were chosen from 75,000 science fair entries nationwide. Neela’s project that got her to the finals was about potato cloning.
Other prizes include a week at science camp, a telescope, a week at a national park and digital photography equipment. In all, 17 students received prizes, and all finalists received $500. Discovery Channel will broadcast a program about the competition on Dec. 18.