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Teen’s Mars Project Gets in Talent Search

March 13, 2006

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) _ A Moscow High School senior has been named one of 40 finalists in a science talent search after devising a method to determine how dust settles on Mars.

Luke Moller, 17, is the first Idaho student in more than 15 years to reach the finals of the 65th annual Intel Science Talent Search.

``I think it’s really neat, especially Intel with all their mass resources,″ Moller recently told the Lewiston Tribune. ``It still is just amazing to meet these amazing scientists who have really accomplished something for the good of society.″

Moller was named a Davidson Fellow by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development earlier this year. He and his school each received $1,000 as an Intel finalist. If Moller makes the cut as one of the top 10 finalists, he will win a computer and a scholarship from $5,000 to $100,000 to the college of his choice.

Moller’s experiment has applications in designing exploratory vehicles so they can remain operating in the fine dust found on the red planet.

``There isn’t much knowledge on how these things work,″ he said. ``These fine materials are solids, but they’re kind of like a fluid in that they slide around. So there’s not much study on what causes them to act this way.″

The experiment Moller came up with determines how the dust settles on solid objects, a process he said is as simple as pouring sand on a basketball. When the sand stops collecting and slides off, the sand that remains forms an ``angle of repose.″

Moller said he originally designed the experiment as a fifth-grader for a science fair. That caught the attention of University of Idaho scientists, who advised him to enter national competitions.

He’s since won grants and taken part in scientific seminars that helped him refine his research. In 2001, the National Aeronautics Space Administration decided to use Moller’s experiment in a space launch. That mission was later canceled and Moller said he doesn’t think it will be included when the mission is rescheduled in 2007.

Moller’s father, Greg, is an environmental toxicologist at the University of Idaho. His mother, Laurie, is an activity director for Good Samaritan Care Center in Moscow.

``I guess ever since I was little I was just interested in science,″ he said. ``Generally I can just remember facts, but it’s also, science is more of a thought process. It seems like common sense to me. And applying everyday things you do to it.″

Moller, who has a 3.65-grade-point average, said that when he’s not working on the Mars dust problem he’s ``just hanging out with my friends. Doing whatever we can find that day.″

He said he plans to study biological engineering, possibly in Washington or California.

Besides Mars explorers, Moller said other students might benefit from his experiment.

``My project is pretty simple at a layman’s level, but it can be applied to math and science for kids as young as 10,″ he said. ``Like I said, it’s just piling sand on a basketball. You can measure it with a protractor.″


Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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