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Intel Science Fair Brings Together Promising Young Scientists - 2003-05-15

Some of the best young scientific minds in the world are in Cleveland this week for one of the most prestigious events of its kind anywhere. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair showcases research and experiments conceived by high school-age kids from all 50 states and about 40 countries.

"Be patient, don't crowd," says a voice in loudspeaker.

That was the advice to dozens of students waiting to get into the exhibit hall at the Cleveland Convention Center Sunday morning. On day one of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the kids were busy setting up their projects, which would be studied and judged later in the week.

"This is what we call the World Series of science fairs," says Don Harliss, the Director of Science Service, the Washington-based non-profit group that puts on the annual fair. He points out that the projects range from practically simple to highly complex.

Michele Anchors of Savannah, Georgia explained hers as she unpacked and assembled it. After the severe weather that ripped through the American mid-west over the past week, it's an especially compelling topic.

"I did my project on how the angle of a roof affects its resistance to a tornado," she says. "So I built a tornado generator box, and then I made a miniature house with roofs of different angles and I tested each one by turning on the vacuum that generates the tornado. It turns out the smaller the angle the more resistant.

Based on her research, Michele has some very practical advice for new homebuilders in tornado-prone areas: "Don't build a flat roof."

Jonathan Hefter and Andrew Song of Jericho, New York were also inspired by a desire to save lives and property. Jonathan explains that they've created a unique method of making building interiors more resistant to fire.

Jonathan Hefter: "I you remember a few months ago there was the fire at the Great White concert in Rhode island. 97 deaths. A lot of this is due to the fact that a lot of the coatings and paints on the walls are very flammable and they spread extremely quickly. So by mixing in a form of clays, we hope to kind of buffer the material from itself, slowing down the rate at which the fire would spread."

Reporter: "Does it work?"

Jonathan Hefter: "Yes, we've patented it and hope to sell it soon."

Then there's Anand Athiviraham of Montreal. He's pushing the frontiers of medicine.

"My project is called INGAP peptide new therapeutic approach for diabetes," he explains. "The project describes how you can use a new protein call INGAP, which stands for Islet Neo-Genesis Associated Protein."

Even though the 15-year-old is just now finishing up the tenth grade, he appears headed for medical school.

"INGAP is a naturally occurring protein which is associated with the regeneration of olip cells during normal development of the human pancreas," says Anand. "So what I did was injected this neuroprotein and extracted a smaller version, known as the peptide, into mice and I wanted to see its effect on the blood glucose levels and on the neuride outgrowth. That's complicated during diabetic neuropathy, which is one of the most common complications in diabetes."

Anand says the results of his project show the INGAP peptide is a potential non-invasive alternative to insulin injections.

These are just a few of some 1300 high-school age kids competing for about three million dollars worth of prize and scholarship money. But Science Service's Don Harliss notes there's much more to this week-long event than the competition.

"The thing the students get most out of the program is meeting students just like them from other parts of the world and other parts of the country," he says.

And there's plenty of time for non-competition activities, and lots of them to choose from: social events, field trips to NASA's Glenn Research Center, area universities and technology-based companies, and excursions to non-science attractions like Cedar Point amusement park.

Mr. Harliss stresses the international nature of the fair. About 40 countries are represented. Unfortunately, he says, several countries that have sent students in the past are absent this year. The threat of spreading SARS prompted China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia to keep their students home

"It was their country's decision whether they would come here or not," explains Mr. Harliss.

While contestants stand to gain something from their trip to Cleveland, the city also benefits, according to Ed Campbell, a local executive who is co-chair of this year's fair.

"There's an opportunity to showcase the many attractions of northeast Ohio to these very talented and high potential young people," he says. "We want to expose them to institutions of higher learning here in Cleveland, as well as the many amenities we have in this community."

Mr. Campbell hopes that the adults will be impressed too - all three thousand or so who have accompanied their kids. With the judging over, members of the public now get their chance to meet the scientists and engineers of the future.