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Siemens "whiz kid" competition at UC Berkeley offers opportunity for 200 local high school students to see what scientific research is all about
08 Nov 2000

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations

Berkeley - Twelve "whiz kid" high school students from the West, including a teenager from Mill Valley, will come to the University of California, Berkeley, on Nov. 10 and 11 to compete in the national Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition. They'll also serve as models for 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 sit in on the competition on Saturday, Nov. 11, be treated to a chemistry demonstration in the afternoon, and tour science labs ranging from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology to the Electronics Research Laboratory.

"These are students who are very interested in science, and we want to show them that the Siemens competitors are high school students just like them," 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 to go on to college, so that we can help to increase the diversity of students who will become professionals in math, science and engineering."

As the local students look on, the 12 Siemens competitors will be sweating over oral presentations to the judges, more like college students defending a thesis than high school science fair contestants.

"These high school students represent the best product of our nation's schools, and the kind of student we all hope to attract as undergraduates. We're amazed by their creativity and precocious dedication to science," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "The Berkeley campus is pleased to host the science competition and to be part of this national effort to show young people from all backgrounds how exciting and valuable a career in science can be."

The campus's coalition, which is sponsoring the local high school students and coordinating the 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. 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, the coalition made sure the campus's outreach activities were included in the event.

The competition, in its second 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. It is open to individuals and teams of high school students who develop independent research projects in the physical or biological sciences, or in mathematics.

This year, 30 individual finalists and 18 team finalists were selected from high schools across the nation. In order to distribute the teams evenly among the six regional competitions, some teams will be participating outside their regions. For example, an Alabama team is competing at UC Berkeley in the Western regionals.

The Western region's five individual finalists and three team finalists (one three-person and two two-person teams) already have submitted written reports on their research projects to five judges, all UC Berkeley faculty members. Among the five individual finalists are Andrew Main of Mill Valley and Hans Lee of Carmel.

"The projects are an interesting mix," said lead judge Roger Falcone, a professor of physics. "Whereas last year the projects were dominated by biology, this year we have projects on antilock brakes, earthquake modeling, combustion studies, number theory, chaos in planetary orbits and land erosion, in addition to several biological projects."

Upon their arrival on Friday, the competitors will set up poster displays about their research in the Dieterich and Bentley Rooms on the first-floor of Bechtel Hall. From 5-6 p.m. on Friday, the posters will be on display for the public. On Saturday, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and again from 1:30 to 4 p.m., the competitors will deliver short presentations before the judges in Bechtel Hall's Sibley Auditorium, 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.

The winners of the individual and team competitions at UC Berkeley will go on to Washington, D.C., for the final national competition Dec. 9-11. Other regional competitions will be hosted by the University of Notre Dame, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Texas at Austin and Carnegie Mellon University.

Each individual regional winner will receive an award of $3,000 and members of the winning regional team will share a prize of $3,000. All of the scholarship money will be applied toward the winning students' undergraduate or graduate education.

The Western States regional winners will advance to compete at the national level for a top individual scholarship prize of $100,000. Separately, members of the top national team will share a $100,000 scholarship. Six individual and six team runners-up on the national level each will be awarded $20,000 scholarships, to be divided equally among team members.

The 200 high school students on hand Saturday also will have a full day. After a continental breakfast and a welcome from Roberto Rivera of UC Berkeley's admissions office, teams of local students will participate in a family feud-type competition testing what they know about science. The competition is between 10 and 11 a.m. in the McCallum Room of Tan Hall.

During the remainder of the day, the students will sit in on the oral presentations by Siemens finalists and tour science labs on campus.

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

* Hans Lee, York School, Monterey, Calif. (engineering, individual)

* Andrew Main, San Francisco University High School, San Francisco, Calif. (computer science, individual)

* Paul Nugent, Fairfield High School, Fairfield, Mont. (environmental science, individual)

* Kenneth Walden, Inglemoor High School, Kenmore, Wash. (mathematics, individual)

* Kenneth Watanabe, Alhambra High School, Alhambra, Calif. (biology, individual)

* April Adams, Vista High School, Oceanside, Calif. (biology, team leader)

* Corinne Dohima, San Dieguito Academy, Encinitas, Calif. (biology, Adams team)

* Frank Huang, Lamp Magnet High School, Montgomery, Ala. (physics, team leader)

* Peter Chung, Lamp Magnet High School, Montgomery, Ala. (physics, Huang team)

* Rachel Wyatt, Lamp Magnet High School, Montgomery, Ala. (physics, Huang team)

* Andrew Coughlin, Laramie High School, Laramie, Wyo. (engineering, team leader)

* Virginia Eakin, Laramie High School, Laramie, Wyo. (engineering, Coughlin 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.

The Siemens Foundation web site can be found at