An honest look at how Intel Finalists get there

<p>The NY Times published a fascinating article about the kind of help Intel winners get. It echoes what was said on another thread recently about science fair projects.</p>

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<p>One of my favorite paragraphs:</p>

Aditi Ramakrishnan, a semifinalist who researched toxicity of nanoparticles in cosmetics, says she would have no project if it were not for the daily help she received from a team of nearby Stony Brook professors. "I'm only 17," she said. "I didn't have the background to create the experiment. I didn't know how to use the equipment. I couldn't create the hypothesis."


<p>You read the glowing articles which just list the kids and their unbelievable projects, and you think (or at least I did) how do they come up with these things, how do they know how to research them, or what equipment to use, or how to use it? Answer: they don't.</p>

<p>The article goes on to say:</p>

For big-time science fairs, the single most important research students do is finding a willing mentor. The "October Sky" projects - four boys standing in a field shooting off rockets - are all but gone. Even classroom science teachers - racing to finish prepackaged state and advanced placement curriculums - rarely can oversee serious research.


<p>I guess I was just naive to think it was or should be that way still. I'm glad this article brings it out in the open.</p>

<p>Agree to the fact that you cannot get there without a lot of help. But many Intel finalists become scientists, and famous ones too, so there must be something to their persistence and desire to do something rather than play outside.</p>

<p>Thanks....I often wondered about that myself. Looks like adults taking over the process (just like Odyssey of Mind and now Destination Imagination)</p>

<p>No one gets anywhere without help, especially in something as complex and multi-layered as basic science research. Don't just look at the Intel winners, look at those first year grad students, they have NO idea what they are doing, what their project should be, what equipment to use, etc. What is important is to have an active interest and a will to find out what you yourself don't know. </p>

<p>From what I can see, the Intel kids are just starting early. :)</p>

<p>I just read the article. I don't see the article as so much criticizing the kids and the Intel competition, but praising the adults that helped them get where they are. It acknowledges the fact that high school students are incapable of doing the complex math and science that is required of them for these projects and emphasizes the support that they receive from their faculty mentors. </p>

<p>I feel what the article is really saying is something that we already know, that a good mentor is one of the best things a kid can have.</p>

<p>I have heard before, that it is all about who you know. If your father's friend is a research scientist at a univ., or a, you got your award winning project made for you. Obviously very few H.S. students have this "opportunity". Read the abstract from this Siemens winner: (ha,ha, even the abstract is beyond me)</p>

Math : Science : Technology____________________________________________________________
“Acoustic and Ultrasonic Resonances Induced by Laser Irradiation”
Kevin E. Claytor, Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos, NM – 2004-05 National Individual Finalist
Abstract: This project takes a novel approach to materials analysis by using a Nd:YAG Q-switched laser
to remotely generate acoustic waves in a material. In this project, two methods that create acoustic waves
remotely were examined. The material was ablated, where part of the material was vaporized. This
generated the acoustic waves from the reaction force of the removed material. A non-destructive method
– the thermoelastic method – was used to generate acoustic waves by heating the material, but below the
point of vaporization. This caused a deformation in the surface that generated acoustic waves. Contrary
to expectations, the thermoacoustic method produced amplitudes only a factor of two less than the
ablative method, reinforcing the use of the thermoacoustic method in materials analysis. In addition to
examining the types of generating acoustic waves in a material with a high power pulsed laser, this project
also examined the practicality of using the acoustic signals of the plasma plume, generated by ablating the
material, as a method of materials analysis.
“Superconductivity in High-Pressure Phases of Lithium”
Wei Gan, Wootton High School, Rockville, MD – 2002-03 National Individual Finalist
Abstract: Superconductivity in compressed lithium is observed by both magnetic susceptibility and
electrical resistivity measurements. Experiments carried out using new diamond-anvil cell techniques
reveal a superconducting critical temperature Tc in the material ranging from 9 K to 16 K at 23 GPa to 80
GPa. An unusual pressure dependence of Tc suggests multiple phase transitions consistent with
theoretical predictions and reported X-ray diffraction results.
The observed values for Tc are much lower than those theoretically predicted indicating that
more sophisticated theoretical treatments similar to those proposed for metallic hydrogen may be
required to understand superconductivity in dense phases of lithium.
Mentors: Wilson Bascom, Dr. Viktor Struzhkin.

It acknowledges the fact that high school students are incapable of doing the complex math and science that is required of them for these projects and emphasizes the support that they receive from their faculty mentors.


<p>Exactly. So why all the hoopla, money and acclaim surrounding something that basically is beyond them, and that they are being led through because they go to the right school, and/or have the right connections?</p>

<p>I read the article as having a pretty clear subtext, but deniability built in (that the author is insinuating a total disingenuousness as far as the authenticity of these projects, but not saying it out loud.) But maybe that's just my take.</p>

<p>Science is a field where enormous amounts of support are needed for success. Grad students, which I think for the most part are not that much unlike high school students, need the support of their labs. Labs need the support of grant money from the NIH, etc. Without support, no research would be done. </p>

<p>So, regardless of whether or not they are capable of doing such studies, they still have the enthusiasm and interest which drives them to perform. They are willing to bike over every afternoon and pull all-nighters in a lab. How many high schoolers are actually willing to do that? THAT's where all the hoopla is. </p>

<p>It is a team effort to make Intel winners, both the mentor and the student.</p>

<p>"How many high schoolers are actually willing to do that?" </p>

<p>It's hard to know, since 99% don't have the opportunity. But since so many kids at this one particular school do make use of the opportunity that they have, I'm guessing that probably tons more would, given the same resources (or else maybe there's just something in the water out on Long Island...:) )</p>


<p>The point being that finding a mentor is itself a research problem, which some kids solve and some kids don't, and being the kind of kid who can sustain a mentorship relationship in science is still a test of scientific aptitude. No mentor wants to put up with a completely clueless, time-wasting mentee. There is still selection of the kids, and the selection is on the basis of characteristics that make sense from the point of view of future development of scientists. </p>

<p>That said, it IS disappointing to me that none of my son's interests in math or science are interests that my wife or I pursued in our higher educations, so that our son doesn't get any dinner-table incidental learning in the fields that matter to him. But he does take initiative to find buddies and mentors, and over time will, I think, learn how to find better mentors.</p>

<p>This was a very timely thread for us.</p>

<p>My 17 yr old daughter just competed in the North Jersey Science Fair at Rutgers U last weekend.</p>

<p>She won 3rd prize overall and 1st prize from the American Chemical Society (she won the same award last year, she loves chemistryÂ…and philosophy, we canÂ’t figure it out?). She (and we) were ecstatic. However, most of her competition had done amazing things with amazing equipment completely unavailable to a student in her high school or any high school we are familiar with.</p>

<p>Her science teacher told us that the projects being done by a few of her competitors could not possibly have been done at a high school: the equipment used would only be available at a corporate lab or research U.</p>

<p>She took third prize overall, and the first prize was awarded to what could only be described as a doctoral project. Her teacher told us that the judges hands were tied because they have to award the prizes according to the depth of the projects presented, no matter how they were accomplished. </p>

<p>He told us our daughter won the ACS award both this year and last year because the American Chemical Society tends to recognize actual “high school” research done with elbow grease, paper, pencil and rudimentary equipment over what is obviously research done beyond the means of any actual high school student. We heard quite a few whispers about this phenomenon throughout the auditorium that evening. </p>

<p>ItÂ’s like steroids in baseball.</p>

<p>Well, you can look at it as kids taking advantage of the opportunities they have. I don't begrudge them doing that. Though the vast majority of kids don't have access to these mentors/equipment in high school they'll get their turn in college. The part of them not being capable of doing the math required to create these projects is kind of uh, disturbing, though. I'd like to think that the Intel winners at least understand the projects they are being giving kudos and $$ for being involved in.</p>

<p>"It's like steroids in baseball"......more like adults pitching and batting in little league.</p>

<p>Woodwork--congratulations to your daughter! She sounds very deserving.</p>

<p>Congratulations Woodwork, it's heartening to hear that a student was recognized for having done a project at H.S. level, and on her own.
To take it to an extreme, should students work with award winning journalists and authors to produce admission-winning college essays? It takes a lot of initiative, research and drive to find one who will work with you.</p>

<p>I think it was last year's Nobel prize winner, a distinguished professor at MIT, who commented that he was a pygmie standing on the shoulders of giants. ALL science relies heavily on the apprentice system.... what's the news here???</p>

<p>Apprentices don't usually win 100 grand or get touted in press releases for fulfilling their apprenticeship. Seems like Blair Hornstein got vilified for the same thing (Sure, she really ran all those charities.)</p>

<p>Chocoholic--I like your analogy; that about sums it up.</p>

<p>Woodwork--kudos to your D!</p>

<p>Ok, so I went to Ward Melville, and participated in the science research program there. I know the girl the OP quoted quite well. </p>

<p>It's true that you don't do the theoretical part of your research on your own, usually (although I know a guy from WM who did his whole project by himself in his backyard and became a semifinalist, as well as a guy who did all the math for his project sitting on the beach and came in fifth last year - these things do happen).</p>

<p>Even the kids who get help, and I was one of them, put in hours and hours and hours actually running scans, writing programs, pipetting chemicals, reading the literature, analyzing data, etc. I don't think there is anything wrong with this. I would guess that few of the adults on this forum have jobs in which they figured out how to do everything on their own, without a mentor of some type to show them the ropes. This doesn't mean that in the end, students still have no idea what they are doing - far from it, students must write a 30 or so page paper describing their research and findings - and this will be a nearly impossible task if you have no idea what you studied. I hope you all don't think that my friend Aditi has no clue about what here project was about. That's just not true. However, she did need help to get there - even the boys in October Sky had that nice guy in the shop to help them formulate the rocket fuel and weld the rocket parts!</p>

<p>As for the not having the opportunity to do such projects, for most people I don't buy it. Sure, If you don't go to Ward Melville, Montgomery Blair, etc. it is more difficult to do a project like this. But it is not impossible. There are over 3000 universities in the country, the majority have science researchers. There are numerous national laboratories. If a student is driven enough, usually there are opportunities for science research in one's community. Trust me, Ward Melville students do not have access to this equipment in High School - every single one of Ward Melville's 12 semifinalists were mentored by researchers at Stony Brook University. </p>

<p>This is not like steroids in baseball. It's not harmful to your health, it's not illegal. It's a factor of driven students and involved mentors.</p>

<p>mstee, chocoholic and Garland,</p>

<p>Thanks a lot, I was too proud of her.</p>

<p>Thanks for the perspective, Jenskate. There's a double standard operating here... nobody complains that Soozie's daughter is a champion skiier and that not every kid has access to the kind of coaching she had... we recognize that a kid in Vermont with a high degree of motivation and talent, access to snow and mountains, and parents who support her motivation by driving, paying, waxing, etc. is going to have more opportunities to become a skiier than a kid in Miami. A high school student in a town adjacent to a world class research facility will have more access to labs and mentors. Where's the news here?</p>