WASHINGTON (AP) _ A California high school senior who enjoys combining mathematics with other sciences to solve interesting problems has won the top prize in the nation's premier young scientists' contest.

Alan John Hu, 17, who is first in his class at La Jolla High School, on Monday won the top $12,000 college scholarship in the 44th annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search.

An eight-judge panel also selected Anna Asher Penn, 17, of Chicago, as second-place winner of a $10,000 scholarship and Michael Friedman, 17, of Brooklyn, N.Y., as the third-place scholarship winner, also for $10,000.

Hu, combining math with computer science, devised a method to minimize the time it takes to make comparisons and move computer data tape to locate a specific record in a file of information.

The student, who is active in his school's science, math and chess clubs, plans to study math and computer science at Stanford University and hopes for a career as a research scientist.

The top winner is the son of Dr. Te Chiang Hu, a professor of computer science at the University of California, San Diego, and Dr. Jane Pu-Chu Hu, a physician.

For her project, Ms. Penn, a student at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools High School, produced clones of viral genetic material to make a gene map for studying viral reproduction in cells. The student, who enjoys ballet and jazz dancing, plans to study molecular biology in college.

Friedman, a math enthusiast who attends Stuyvesant High School, used a computer and his own formulas to study so-called perfect numbers. A scholar who has won awards in math, science, French and history, Friedman plans to major in computer science.

The 40 national finalists, who come from 13 states and Puerto Rico, split 10 major scholarships and 30 cash awards of $500, having a total value of $89,500. The winners were announced at a banquet attended by 500 educators, scientists and political leaders.

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.

Scholarships for $7,500 were awarded fourth, fifth and sixth-place winners, and those placing from seventh to 10th received $5,000 scholarships.

Michael Graziano, 17, who attends City Honors High School in Buffalo, N.Y., took fourth place for a project on which side of the brain controls different tasks.

John Shu-Shin Kuo, 17, a senior at the Bronx, N.Y., High School of Science, took fifth place with a project on the genetic rearrangement in microbes.

Sixth place went to Anthony Ciabarra, 17, of Wyncote, Pa. The student at Cheltenham High School, who has been in numerous science and math fairs, studied the genetic repair in bacteria for his project.

The seventh to tenth-place winners, respectively, were Mark Kantrowitz of Brookline, Mass.; Michael Gesner of Avon, Mass.; Audrey Zelicof of Forest Hills, N.Y.; and Allan Goldstein of Wyncote, Pa.