3 Howard County students named semifinalists in nationwide science contest

January 25, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Three county students -- including two from Atholton High School -- have been named semifinalists in the 52nd Westinghouse Science Talent Search.

Atholton students Bryan Townsend and Lee Epstein, and Centennial student Mark Lewis are awaiting word on whether they have won any of 40 scholarships, worth more than $205,000, in the country's oldest nationwide high school science competition. Top prize is a $40,000 scholarship. The announcement of the 40 finalists is expected today.

This year, 300 high school students were named semifinalists out of more than 1,600 who entered science projects. Of the semifinalists, 128 are female and 178 are male.

Many of the projects that won were mind-boggling as well as tongue-twisting: "Effects of the Monoclonal Anti-Body BD1 on Histamine Release in Rat Basophilic Leukemia Cells," "Determination and Removal of Trihalomethanes in Drinking Water" and "Statistical Analysis of X-Ray and Radio Emissions in RS CVn Active Binaries."

A search for better insulation was Atholton senior Bryan Townsend's goal in his "Synthesis of Silica Aerogels via the Sol-Gel Process" project.

His work involved comparing different kinds of glass to find improved window insulation. He says he has found a composition that would improve insulation as much as 10 times.

Bryan's research, which ended last April after seven months, was done at W. R. Grace, the company with which the school has a partnership.

Discovery of a potentially new toxin given off by coral reefs was the result of Atholton senior Lee Epstein's project.

Like Bryan, Lee worked with a W. R. Grace mentor to research the project, called "Isolation and Identification of Allelochemicals Released by Lobophytum crassum."

Without the help of their mentors -- A. V. Kerkar and Peter Dreifuss -- Bryan and Lee couldn't have done their projects, said Ed Rohde, science research teacher.

"We thank them for their 'human tower,' " he said. "They have given us a lot of time and energy."

In researching his project, Lee used a gas chromatic graph mass spectrometer -- a machine that determines mass-to-charge ratios of molecules. The spectrometer broke up chemical particles in coral reef samples.

Lee compared the particles with a list of known elements and found that some were not listed.

"The more we understand the reef environment, the more we understand what we can do to help the reef environment," Lee said. "Coral reefs are extremely important."

Coral reefs help filter water and are home to many marine invertebrates. Lee's research could help scientists figure out how coral reefs defend their territory, Mr. Rohde said.

"Sadly enough, there's not many coral reefs left, and it's not as if they could grow back easily," Lee said.

Centennial senior Mark Lewis' "Magnetic Properties of Rare Earth Compounds" earned him semifinalist status.

Mark had worked on the project during a summer program at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, Md.

He tested three compounds -- dysprosium, terbium, holmium -- for their magnetic properties using liquid nitrogen at 77 degrees Kelvin, or about 321 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Mark, 16, who skipped the second grade, wanted to dip into science and math.

"It's a lot of computer work, lab work, a lot of hands-on work like sawing things, building things," he said. "It's mostly lab work and research."

One friend told him he was wasting his summer. Others told him what he was doing was neat, he said.

The three students say they hope to study engineering or medicine in college.

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