BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor High School senior who invented a gadget for improving water quality received one of three first-place awards — worth $150,000 — during Tuesday night’s Intel Science Talent Search awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., according to a news release from the organizers of the 2016 event.
The awards are a program of the Society for Science & the Public and the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science and math competition, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Paige Brown, 17, of Bangor won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good, which recognizes a finalist who demonstrates great scientific potential through their passion to make a difference.
Brown studied the water quality of six environmentally impaired local streams with high E. coli levels and five with high phosphate contamination levels.
Brown’s research project, titled “Identifying and Remediating the Sources of Pollution in Impaired Bangor Streams,” won the Maine Stockholm Junior Water Prize last year, and she took home a fourth-place award of $500 in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last spring, where she was awarded a full four-year scholarship to Drexel University.
Brown could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday night, but in a phone interview on Monday, she said, “It’s an incredible opportunity, and I highly recommend it. I’ve become really close to the other 39 finalists. It’s an opportunity I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
“The kind of people that are here are the kind of people I want to hang around with and I want to know, going forward in my schooling and my career. The kind of connections I can make here are going to be crucial further down the line.”
Brown is developing a cost-effective filter largely made of calcium alginate strands to remove the phosphate from stormwater systems. Brown is co-captain of the math team and secretary of the Key Club at her high school, and she also helps organize fundraisers for her school and community.
She said Monday that if she won one of the top awards, she would apply her winnings to her college education.
Brown was one of two students chosen from Maine to compete in Washington. The other was Demetri Maxim of Gould Academy in Bethel. His project was titled “Directed Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells into Mature Kidney Cells that Form Nephron Structures in Kidney Scaffolds.”
Two others won top prizes:
— Amol Punjabi, 17, of Marlborough, Massachusetts, won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research, which recognizes a finalist who demonstrates exceptional scientific potential through depth of research and analysis. Punjabi developed software that could help drugmakers develop new therapies for cancer and heart disease. He is the lead author of a paper on nanoparticles published in ACS Nano and co-author of a paper on a related topic in Nanoscale. Punjabi also is the lead pianist for his high school’s jazz workshop and captain of the Science Olympiad team.
— Maya Varma, 17, of Cupertino, California, won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation, which celebrates a finalist who demonstrates the problem-solving aptitude of an engineer through innovative design and creativity. Varma used $35 worth of hobbyist electronics and free computer-aided design tools to create a low-cost, smartphone-based lung function analyzer that diagnoses lung disease as accurately as expensive devices currently used in medical laboratories. She is proficient in five programming languages, holds leadership roles in multiple honor societies and science and math clubs, and has won grand prizes in several prestigious science competitions.
“The Society congratulates Amol, Paige and Maya,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science & the Public and alumna of the Science Talent Search. “They and the rest of the top winners of Intel STS 2016 are using science and technology to help address the problems they see in the world and will be at the forefront of creating the solutions we need for the future. We applaud their curiosity and dedication, and look forward to celebrating stellar young scientists for 75 more years.”
“In addition to honoring two female top winners, this year’s competition is the first in the Science Talent Search’s 75-year history in which more than half of the finalists are female,” said Rosalind Hudnell, vice president in Human Resources, director of Corporate Affairs at Intel Corp. and president of the Intel Foundation.
“This milestone is an inspiring sign of progress toward closing the gender gap in technology and engineering. We hope these finalists’ outstanding work will inspire young people from all backgrounds to develop their interests in these fields,” she said.
In addition to the top award prizes, three second-place finishers received awards of $75,000, and three students were awarded the third-place prize of $35,000.
The second-place medalists were:
— Meena Jagadeesan, 17, of Naperville, Illinois, who won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research. She investigated an object in algebraic combinatorics, or the mathematics of counting, to reveal a novel relationship between classes of graphs.
— Michael Zhang, 18, of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good. He engineered tiny virus-like particles to deliver gene-modifying proteins to target cells for medical therapy by altering the genome of those cells in a controlled way.
— Milind Jagota, 18, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation. He studied the performance of random nanowire networks as a less costly alternative to the transparent conductors now used in touchscreen devices.
The third-place medalists were:
— Kunal Shroff, 17, of Great Falls, Virginia, won the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research. He discovered new relationships between the key protein associated with Huntington’s disease and the biological processes of cellular death that cause Huntington’s symptoms. His work may lead to new treatments.
— Nathan Charles Marshall, 17, of Boise, Idaho, won the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good. He studied a marine sediment core sample and related it to present-day climate change, concluding that Earth can recover from current climate change trends if action is taken soon.
— Kavya Ravichandran, 17, of Westlake, Ohio, won the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation. She studied the use of nanomedicine to destroy potentially fatal blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
This year’s finalists hail from 38 schools in 18 states. The finalists join the ranks of other notable Science Talent Search alumni, who over the past 75 years, have gone on to win 12 Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, 11 National Medals of Science, 17 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and even an Academy Award for Best Actress.