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Indian teenagers win top scholarships

September 06, 2005 16:55 IST

Two Indian students -- Ashish Agrawal of Ghaziabad, near New Delhi, and Asilata Bapat of Pune -- are among the lucky 89 American and international students selected for the prestigious Research Science Institute scholarships in 2005. RSI scholarships are awarded to exceptionally gifted high school students by the US-based Center for Excellence in Education.

The chosen students will participate in six weeks of rigorous research training at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT.

The Center for Excellence in Education, located in Virginia, which administers the RSI, was co-founded in 1983 by dmiral H G Rickover, one of the US Navy's most able commanders and his long-time friend and current president of the Institute, Joann P DiGennaro to nurture smart kids towards careers in excellence and leadership in science and technologies.

Heavyweights who serve on the Center's board of trustees include former US President Jimmy Carter; US Senators Joseph Lieberman and George Allen; Congressman Tom Davis and Michael Jordan, chairman and CEO of technology biggie EDS.

Judges had the arduous task of singling out the winners from as many as 12,000 applicants worldwide. The selection criteria is broad -- grades, national examination scores, teacher recommendations, and participation in science competitions and activities that indicate leadership capability.

The RSI says its program for these selected whiz kids 'combines classroom instruction and research mentorships with top scientists at academic institutions and corporations, and challenges students beyond their potential.'

Agrawal is a student at Ghaziabad's Delhi Public School, a few kilometers out of India's capital city. The youngster has participated in several science competitions like the International Astronomy Olympiad run by the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg. He has received scholarships from the National Talent Search and Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yogna. Besides these academic achievements, he is a keen sportsman, representing his school in table tennis, cricket, football and basketball. The teenager will be fortunate enough to study physics this summer with his mentor, Professor Norbert Schulz at MIT's Center for Space Research at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Agrawal told rediff India Abroad he "felt rejuvenated and excited" on getting the RSI scholarship. "When at first I read about the RSI program, I knew that it would be tough to get in and when I received the news that I was among the select group of awardees, it was such a very joyous moment for me.

"But to be very frank, from the moment I got selected, I was thinking about my research project. I knew that doing actual research at such a young age was a lifetime opportunity and I want to make full use of this wonderful opportunity."

Agrawal said his research would focus on "analyzing high energy X-ray spectrum of pre-main sequence stars and I am working on almost a dozen sources by observing and fitting specific emission lines in them and attempting to find specific plasma properties such as density and temperature. As some of these sources have not been observed earlier in X-rays, my research could provide the first details about some of these, and my mentor has introduced me to the world of long-term research, where not everyday would you get wonderful results.

"It has told me that bricks of breaking discovery are laid down by years of hard work and dedication to one's work and I am going to do my best to lay down those bricks as well," he added.

Bapat goes to the Army Public School in Pune and has a passion for competing at national and international competitions, winning gold medals at the International Astronomy Olympiad and National Cyber Olympiad (conducted by the Science Olympiad Foundation, New Delhi). Like Agrawal she too is immersed in a range of activities outside academics -- inter-house drama competitions, nature orientation, adventure and sports camps — and aspires to become a research scientist. She will study mathematics with her mentor, Harley Rogers at MIT.

"RSI 2005 is providing me this unique opportunity (whereby they will be) educating me and all the others (from) different fields while simultaneously providing an international forum to discuss our ideas and interests," Bapat told rediff India Abroad.

Neela Khin, public affairs manager at the center, noted that the RSI is the only program of its kind that is absolutely free of cost to the students. And that RSI alumni — which now stands at 1,500 alumni and reflects a cross section of some of the most prominent student scholars in science from over 49 nations — continue to participate in alumni activities even during their undergraduate and graduate careers.

Khin said RSI alumni have gone on to participate and win top prizes in US and international science competitions. For four of the past six years, American RSI alumni have won top prizes at the Intel Science Talent Search, often dubbed the junior Nobel Prize competition.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC