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Students putting their best brains forward

Tony LaRussa
| Saturday, Nov. 15, 2003

Anna-Katrina Shedletsky has been following the hepatitis A outbreak in Western Pennsylvania quite closely from her home in Brewster, N.Y.

The project the 17-year-old senior at Brewster High School has entered in a prestigious math, science and technology competition at Carnegie Mellon University on Friday and today might someday help public health officials combat contagious diseases.

"The hepatitis outbreak that's happening here (in the Pittsburgh area) is exactly the kind of thing my project could be applied to," Shedletsky said.

"You would be able to assess what portion of the population it is spreading in, and apply my equation to determine how many people are going to get sick, whether it can be stopped, slowed or if it will burn out on its own."

Shedletsky is among 11 high school students -- five individuals and three teams of two -- competing at CMU in Oakland in the middle states regional finals of the Siemens Westinghouse Competition.

Regional competitions are held in five other U.S. cities. In each region, one individual and one team will each win $3,000 scholarships and advance to the national finals in Washington, D.C. Winners will be announced tonight.

Scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 will be awarded to the winners at the national finals.

Another competitor, Xinlei Wang, 17, of North Potomac, Md., is hoping his explorations into biomedical engineering might someday lead to improvement in diagnosing medical conditions.

For his project, Wang developed an optical bio-sensor that can identify bacteria in a fluid sample. While such devices exist, Wang's bio-sensor can be miniaturized in a portable box that requires minimal training to operate.

He thinks that in the future the innovations he came up with while developing his project will reduce the array of tests patients often must submit to when being treated.

Herb Carter, executive vice president for the Siemens Foundation, which has been sponsoring the event for the past four years, said the goal of the program is to increase the level of interest in math and science among students.

Carter said foundation members hope to see a day when schools have as many prizes in their trophy cases from math and science competitions as there are trophies for students who compete in basketball and football.

"Competitions like this help create an incentive for these bright-and-talented young people," Carter said. 'We hope that it will eventually lead to an increase in the pool of skilled scientists.

"It's exciting to know that the cure for cancer could be right in this room."

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