A 17-year-old Andrew Jin, of San Jose, won one of three top prizes and $150,000 Tuesday at the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, for his work developing an algorithm that could help decipher the human genetic code. In this contest considered the Nobel Prizes for the National’s brightest high school students.
Another Bay Area student, Saranesh (Saran) Thanika Prembabu, 17, of San Ramon, one of the three won the second-place $75,000 awards.
Together, the wins promote to strengthen the Bay Area as a powerhouse in top-tier high school science education. This year, nine of the contest’s 40 finalists came from the Bay Area, the most from the region in the contest’s 73-year history. And in 2011, Evan O’Dorne, who was home-schooled in Danville, won first place, becoming the first Californian to win the top prize. Jin now is the second.
Jin is a senior student at the Harker School, who won the first place Medal of Distinction for Global Good. He developed a way of identifying human genome transformation and discovered more than 100 adaptive change in DNA sequences, related to immune response, metabolism, brain development and schizophrenia.
“I’m like so shocked now,” Jin said, adding that he didn’t expect to win. “Everyone here was so brilliant.”
He said, at the heart of his work was his curiosity about evolution. “Which genetic mutations enable us to do algebra or speak languages or be uniquely human?” he said. “I was really curious to discover how we became who we are.”
The discoveries of his work will help them to understand the genetic causes of diseases, a crucial step in developing therapies. “will provide a new starting point for genome scientists in their efforts to decipher the complexities of our genetic code,” said Claire Fraser, director of the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and one of the contest judges.
A senior at Dougherty Valley High, Prembabu, won second place in the Medal of Distinction for Innovation category for a project showing how changeable the layers in nanocrystal structures can affect their electrical and magnetic properties. The discovery will help improve the efficiency of electronic data storage.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” said Prembabu. “I’m really honored to have been given this award.”
The two other top awards went to Noah Golowich, 17, of Lexington, Massachusetts, who won the first place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research, and Michael Hofmann Winer, 18, of North Bethesda, Maryland, who won first place for Innovation.
The 40 finalists, including 11 from California, were selected among 1,844 applicants, and they were invited to compete in Washington, D.C. The winners were announced Tuesday night at a black-tie gala at the National Building Museum. On Wednesday, the group will meet President Barack Obama at the White House.
This year Intel increased the amount of the awards, and named the three winners each for first, second and third place. Previously it awarded one grand prize, worth $100,000, and runner-up prizes.
All together, the Intel foundation awarded $1.6 million prizes in the talent search this year. The awards come with no restrictions, although a spokeswoman said winners generally have used the funds for education.
The Science Talent Search was founded in 1942 by the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public, as a way to encourage more high school students to pursue science careers. It was sponsored for 57 years by Westinghouse. In 1998 Intel took over sponsorship.