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High School Girls Win Top Spots in Westhinghouse Science Competition

March 3, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Gifted high school girls took the top two scholarship prizes in the country’s premier student science competition, the first-ever female sweep of the one-two spots, contest officials say.

Louise Chia Chang, 17, a Chicago-area student who researched the genetics of cancer cells, won the $20,000 first-place scholarship prize in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, billed as the country’s largest competition for young scientists.

Elizabeth Lee Wilmer of Scarsdale, N.Y., took the $15,000 second-place award for a mathematics project establishing properties for making a three- color map with no adjacent faces having the same color.

The winners were announced at a banquet Monday night marking the end of the 46th annual competition in which $140,000 in scholarships and awards went to 40 promising students.

The third-place award of a $15,000 college scholarship was awarded to Albert Wong, 16, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., who created a mathematical model concerning pattern recognition in the human brain.

Chang, of Westmont, Ill., attends the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools High School and credits a microscopic look at lettuce for igniting her interest in science.

″My father bought my older sister a microscope and I found that looking at lettuce leaves under 400 (power) magnification was more fun than eating it for lunch,″ she recalled.

The young scientist isolated three genes which are more active in cancerous cells than normal ones. She found evidence that one of these packets of genetic information was responsible for a protein-destroying enzyme that could be a factor in the behavior of malignant cells.

An accomplished violinist who plays with the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chang said she hoped for a career as a cancer researcher. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Kuo-Chin Chang, are graduates of universities in Taiwan.

Wilmer, who attends Stuyvesant High School in New York City, worked with mathematical theorems to establish what properties a three-color graph had to have in order for no adjacent edges to have the same color.

The young mathematician, whose hobbies include jogging, juggling and knitting, is captain of her school’s academic Olympics team. Wilmer, daughter of Mrs. Maribeth Wilmer, hopes to pursue math at Harvard University.

Joseph Wang, 17, of Ocala, Fla., was the fourth-place winner of a $10,000 scholarship with a radio astronomy project that involved collecting signals from Jupiter. Wang is a student at Forest High School and wants to major in physics before becoming a college professor.

The $10,000, fifth-place prize went to Daniel Bernstein, 15, of Bellport, N.Y., for a mathematics project to compute various numbers to many digits. A student at Bellport High School in Brookhaven, Bernstein is active in the school’s math, computer, chess, Latin and French clubs.

Stephen Racunas, 16, who is first in his class academically at Valley High School in New Kensington, Pa., won the sixth-place $10,000 scholarship. The president of his school’s science club, Racunas’ research involved increasing the accuracy in atomic-scale measurements.

Seventh to tenth-place scholarships of $7,500 were awarded respectively to Maxwell Meng, 16, of Columbia, Md.; Todd Waldman, 18, of Bethesda, Md.; Maria Silveira, 17, of Flushing, N.Y.; and Michael Mossey, 18, of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The 30 other national finalists, who won state and regional competitions before coming to Washington for the final interviews, were each awarded $1,000 in cash.

The judges also selected alternates from among the remaining students who would get scholarships in the event some of the top winners were unable to accept their prizes. The first alternate is Gur Hoshen, 17, of Naperville, Ill., and the second alternate is Mason Ng, 16, of New York City.

The competition began with entries from 1,295 young scientists from around the country. Subsequent eliminations reduced this number to 40 national finalists announced in January. The finalists have been in Washington for five days of judging by a panel of noted scientists.

The contest, which has had five former winners receive Nobel Prizes since 1972, is sponsored by the Westinghouse Electric Corp., and administered by Science Service, a non-profit science education organization.

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