Two student scientists are finalists in contest Westinghouse selects two others from area

January 28, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF Sun Staff writer Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

Placing them in a select group of talented young scientists, two high school seniors from Howard County and two from Montgomery County have been named finalists in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search.

Josh Greene, 17, of Oakland Mills High, and Sabyasachi Guharay, 17, of Wilde Lake High, each will each receive at least $1,000. One could receive as much as $40,000 if awarded the first-place prize.

Perhaps more important, the highly competitive award is a flattering resume-booster for young scientists preparing for college.

"It's really a great feeling," said Guharay, whose friends call him Saby and who hopes to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall. "As far as I'm concerned, being a finalist is almost like winning the Nobel Prize for high school students."

Said Greene, "Of course, I'm really excited. I got the call on Sunday, and I knew that was the day they would be calling. Every time the phone rang, I just jumped all day."

There are 40 finalists this year. In the 57 years since the contest began, only 2,023 Westinghouse finalists have been named, said Ann Korando of Washington-based Science Services, the nonprofit organization that founded the competition and administers the prizes. Among them, five have won the Nobel Prize; three have won National Medals of Science.

In the last 10 years, 24 finalists have been named from Maryland, including five from Howard.

Greene and Guharay are part of Howard County's gifted and talented program, and they developed much of the research they submitted to Westinghouse with academic mentors arranged through their schools.

The two -- along with Montgomery County residents David Wildstrom and Kirk Doran -- will spend a week in Washington in March to attend an expenses-paid institute and undergo interviews with Westinghouse judges.

Greene, who lives in Columbia's Owen Brown village and hopes to attend California Institute of Technology, submitted results from a project called "Wavelet Analysis of Long Gamma Ray Burst Temporal Profiles."

His work could affect knowledge on early star formation and could help scientists define the bulk of the universe -- so-called dark matter.

"In the big scheme of things, this is as big as it gets," said Jay Norris, an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and Greene's mentor. "Of the four students in Maryland who have been named, their research is similar in the level of difficulty, but Josh's is probably the most abstract.

"I've worked with one other high school student before, but Josh is way out there," he said.

Guharay, who lives in Ellicott City, submitted to Westinghouse original research on DNA sequences titled "Correlations in Genetic Sequences Across the Three Domains of Life."

Compiling huge amounts of DNA data on computers, Guharay appears to have disproved assumptions on how DNA can be identified and classified -- and has shed light on how evolution may have affected DNA structures.

"We're pushing him to publish this, but at the same time a high school student can only go so far," said James A. Yorke, a mathematician at the University of Maryland, College Park, who is Guharay's mentor. "He still has to go to class. Writing a paper is a big effort."

Wildstrom, 17, of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, began research last summer only to discover he was repeating someone else's project. He retraced his steps and found a related calculus problem, which resulted in his project, "Modular Congruence Classes in the Hurwitz Domain."

Montgomery County's other finalist, Doran, 18, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, conducted biophysics research last summer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Doran's study of protein growth is called "Computer Implementation of a Generalized Lattice Model to Simulate the Thermodynamics and Kinetics of Protein Folding: Cooperative Folding and Secondary Structure."

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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