Siemens "whiz kid" competition at UC Berkeley offers opportunity for 200 local high school students to see what scientific research is all about

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- When 10 "whiz-kid" high school students from around the West come to campus Nov. 5 and 6 to compete in the national Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition, they will be cheered on by some 200 local high school students invited to join the fun.

The local students, from high schools in San Jose, Hayward, San Leandro, Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito and Richmond, will visit with the science competition finalists on Saturday, Nov. 6, and have an opportunity to discuss the competing research projects. The rest of the day the students will attend workshops that introduce them to the fascination of scientific research. The labs they will visit are devoted to robotics research, astrophyiscs, studies of animal locotion and insect viruses, among others.

"These are students who are very interested in science, and we hope they will go on to college," said Caroline Kane, adjunct professor of molecular and cell biology and chair of the campus's Coalition for Excellence and Diversity in Math, Science and Engineering. "They are the group the coalition wants to encourage so that we can help to increase the diversity of students who will become professionals in math, science and engineering."

The coalition, which is sponsoring the high school students and coordinating the Siemens Westinghouse competition, is a highly successful program to boost the success of women and minorities in science, math and engineering - fields in which they historically have been underrepresented. Last year President Clinton awarded the coalition a 1998 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

When the Siemens Foundation invited UC Berkeley to host the Western regionals, Kane made sure that the campus's outreach activities were included in the event.

The Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition, which is in its first year, is a national million-dollar scholarship and awards program developed by the Siemens Foundation to promote and advance math and science education in America. The competition is open to individuals and teams of high school students who develop independent research projects in the physical or biological sciences, or in mathematics.

The five individual finalists and two team finalists (one three-person and one two-person team) in the western region already have submitted written reports on their research projects, and these are in the hands of the six judges, drawn from UC Berkeley faculty.

"The projects are very ambitious," said lead judge Roger Falcone, chair of the physics department at UC Berkeley. "We're obviously dealing with a sophisticated group of students who have been exposed to current ideas in science."

Upon their arrival on Friday, Nov. 5, the competitors will set up poster displays about their research in Pauley Ballroom East. Set-up is noon to 4 p.m., with preliminary poster review from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. On Saturday, Nov. 6, from 8 a.m. to 1p.m., they will deliver short presentations before the judges in the Tan Oak room, then answer questions about their research.

The "whiz-kid" finalists will be judged on the contributions their research makes to a particular field of science, how comprehensive the work is, how well the students understand the field they have chosen to investigate, and their clarity of communication, Falcone said.

On Saturday afternoon the competitors and their chaperones will tour UC Berkeley science labs and get a chance to talk with faculty about cutting-edge work on campus.

The winners of the individual and team competitions at UC Berkeley will go on to Washington, D.C., for the final national competition December 4-6. Other regional competitions will be hosted by the University of Notre Dame and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Nov. 12-13), and the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin (Nov. 19-20). A competition at Carnegie Mellon University took place last week (Oct. 29-30).

Each individual regional winner will receive an award of $20,000, while members of the winning regional team will share a prize of $30,000. All of the prize money will be applied toward the winning students' undergraduate or graduate education.

The top individual national winner will receive a scholarship prize of $100,000. Members of the nation's top team will share a $90,000 scholarship.

The Western States Finalists and their respective categories of competition are:

· Nancy Huynh, Alhambra High School; Alhambra CA (Biology, individual)

·Davy Merrick, Beaverton High School; Beaverton, OR (Biology, individual)

· Kirsten Myers, Willits High School; Willits, CA (Biology, individual)

· Geoffrey Tison, Foothill High School; Santa Ana, CA (Biology, individual)

· Andrew Wong, Torrey Pines High School; Encinitas, CA (Chemistry, individual)

· Jason Zheng, Los Altos High School; Haciendas Heights, CA (Computer Science, team leader)

· James Lu, Los Altos High School; Haciendas Heights, CA (member, Zheng team)

· Will Zheng, Los Altos High School; Haciendas Heights, CA (member, Zheng team)

· Smith Sirisakorn, California Academy of Math & Science; Carson, CA (Environmental Science, team leader)

· Heng Tea, California Academy of Math & Science; Carson, CA (member, Sirisakorn team)

The Siemens Foundation was established in 1998 to promote and support educational activities. As part of its mission, the foundation recognizes and supports America's most promising math and science students and teachers, as well as schools that are doing the most to promote education in the hard sciences.


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