When Paulomi Bhattacharya was making the daily train ride from Cupertino to UC San Francisco over the summer, the high school student didn't think she would discover a compound that might lead to a cure for cancer. And she certainly didn't think her summer research project would put her in the running for a $100,000 award from Intel.
Bhattacharya, 18, a senior at The Harker School in San Jose is one of five Bay Area students among the 40 finalists for the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search 2013.
"It's unbelievable. It's a dream come true," said Bhattacharya, who has been doing scientific research since eighth grade in areas ranging from bioengineering to chemical engineering.
Forty finalists for the Talent Search were announced Wednesday from 300 semifinalists named earlier this month. Projects were selected on the strength of their independent scientific research, originality and creativity, and students also were judged on their other achievements and leadership.
In March, the finalists will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete for more than $630,000 in awards from the Intel Foundation. The top winner, who will be announced March 12, will receive a $100,000 award, with each finalist receiving at least $7,500.
But a cash award isn't what Bhattacharya is most looking forward to. "It will be great being around kids my age who love science and research as much as I do," she said.
She will be joined by four other young
With a total of six finalists, California has the second-highest number of finalists, after New York's seven.
"These young scientists are tackling some of the world's greatest challenges in topics ranging from environmental conservation solutions to medical treatments," said Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation.
Bhattacharya spent her summer vacation learning complicated computer programs and working in the laboratory to find a drug that has the potential to shut off a protein responsible for multiple myeloma. Myeloma is a cancer that affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell.
Bhattacharya painstakingly identified and tested drug after drug throughout the summer. After a number of duds, she found one that worked.
"Research is so much about failing over and over again, and finally when you succeed, it's wonderful," said Bhattacharya.
Chen also struggled with the ups and down of research last summer. He was trying to build a machine that would analyze the quality of ferroelectric devices, which are similar to computer transistors and can be used for storing information. The problem was testing the quality of these devices is expensive. Chen wanted to find a low cost way to test the machines.
So, Chen descended into the basement of his mentor's lab at Stony Brook University. He picked out spare parts from among the heaps of electronics. The goal was to incorporate cheap equipment that most people already had on hand. "I didn't even know I could pull it off," said Chen, who is now working with his adviser Matthew Dawber at Stony Brook University to continue to refine the successful project.
The news they were finalists came as a surprise to many students. Takahashi was greeted by cake and an assembly at Lynbrook on Wednesday in honor of his success as a finalist as well as all the Lynbrook semifinalists.
Takahashi has been going back and forth between his home in Saratoga and the lab of Stanford University researcher Vinicio de Jesus Perez since summer trying to figure out what leads to the deadly disease pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension is caused by excessive growth of cells in the arteries of the lung.
Takahashi found a molecule that causes the cells to grow out of control, and he is hoping it will lead to treatment. "It's so important to make cures available so people with the disease have a good chance of reversing this affliction," said Takahashi of his discovery.
The students' research may have a wide range of implications.
Vasudevan's math research could improve the speed and efficiency of computer algorithms, and Zhang developed a novel nanoparticle to deliver fluorescent dyes to tumor cells as an aid during cancer surgery.
This year 1,712 high school students entered their original research projects in the talent search. Of the 300 semifinalists in the Talent Search, 32 were from the Bay Area.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.