3 Howard students gain in science search They are among 21 semifinalists from Md. in Westinghouse contest

January 15, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Raymond Cheong, Josh Greene and Sabyasachi Guharay sound a lot like Nobel laureates when they talk about cancer-causing proteins, gamma rays and DNA sequences.

But, in reality, they are students at Columbia high schools -- Cheong and Guharay at Wilde Lake, Greene at Oakland Mills -- and among 21 semifinalists from Maryland in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search.

They will take part in a competition Jan. 27 among 300 semifinalists from across the country, including 21 from Maryland, in what is widely considered the nation's most prestigious high school science contest.

It is the third straight year that Howard County students have earned recognition as semifinalists.

"These are fantastic kids and we're really fortunate to have them reach that level of prestige," said Janice Doherty, a science instructional leader at Oakland Mills High School.

Each student researched his project at a university or lab specific to the area of his interest. And none of the projects bore any resemblance to the kind of science exhibit portrayed in television sitcoms -- such as the exploding volcano. Guharay, 17, for instance, offered a project with the title "Correlations in Genetic Sequences Across the Three Domains of Life."

Inspired to study DNA sequences in everyday places after picking wildflowers as a seventh-grader, Guharay spent the last five years poring through DNA sequences on his computer in such diverse forms of life as fungi, mice, flies, plants and humans.

Through Howard's mentor program, Guharay worked with mathematicians at the University of Maryland, College Park to complete his research. He hopes to get his work published soon in a journal and study math and computer science in college. "When I look at nature, I don't see the inherent pattern immediately," Guharay said. "I have to look deeply into it. That's what got me into this. The interesting question is: Do the sequences exist and why."

For Cheong, 16, entering the Westinghouse competition had been a lifelong dream.

"I had always wanted to be in it," said Cheong, whose project was "Phosphoprotein 32 (pp32) Variably Inhibits Lymphoma-Derived Myc Mutants."

"People who succeed in it are looked up to," Cheong said of the contest.

Cheong said he spent almost every day during the summer and at least two days during the school year at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine analyzing how cancer-causing proteins interact in the body. He plans to attend Rice University or the University of California at Berkley and major in chemical engineering.

For Greene, 17, whose project was "Wavelet Analysis of Long Gamma Ray Burst Temporal Profiles," his research developed from reading a book on stars at his house.

"The stars are the most energetic thing in the universe," Greene said. "It's powerful stuff."

He did his research work close to home -- at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center. He plans to attend the California Institute of Technology next year and major in math or physics.

Westinghouse scholars have gone on to win five Nobel Prizes and scores of other honors in science and mathematics.

The contest will change after 1999, when Westinghouse Electric Co. says it will end sponsorship of the 57-year-old program, stating it is not in keeping with its new "media-centric" corporate image.

Since acquiring CBS Corp., Westinghouse has tried to establish itself as a media giant. While losing the Westinghouse name and tradition, organizers say the contest will survive.

Officials at Science Service, the Washington-based nonprofit group that founded the competition in 1942, said it is talking to several potential corporate sponsors.

"Westinghouse has become CBS, and it has entirely different goals and missions," said Peter Bennett, president of Science Service. "The program will continue. We are committed to the parents, teachers and students in it."

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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