Three Indian-Americans won high honours in Discovery channel's `Young Scientist Challenge 2007', the national contest held in Washington, DC, aimed at unearthing the best and brightest young scientists in America.
Gokul Krishnan of Illinois won the 'Build it Bigger' prize, which among other things allows him to join Danny Forster, host of the channel's Build it Bigger program, on a tour of Manhattan's famed skyline.
Prem Thottumkara, also of Illinois, won the `Emerging Networks US Space and Rocket Center' prize, which entitles him among other things to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and to participate in the Aviation Challenge in the same city.
Rohit Kamat of Texas won the Discovery Commerce prize, entitling him to a $1000 gift card and a copy of the 5-DVD set of Planet Earth.
Krishnan, Kamat and Thottumkara made the list of six winners out of a short list of 40 finalists hailing from 22 states across the country. This list was in turn winnowed, on the basis of submitted essays, from a pool of 79,000 aspirants drawn from all states across the US.
In the challenge round, the selected finalists had to present their ideas and concepts, live, to a panel of judges and the public. 11 year old Erik Gustafson of Cortland, New York, won the grand prize - a $20,000 scholarship and the title of America's Top Young Scientist of 2007.
Gokul Krishnan, 13, had developed an interest in the effect acids and bases have on diseased cells. He chose as his field of specialization neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that strikes children in infancy, and hypothesized a method of growing such cells that could help spark the search for a cure.
An avid reader and budding violinist, Krishnan wants to be a cardiologist when he grows up.
Prem Thottumkara, 14, noticed that waxing his brother's beat up old car made the spots on its finish go away. From that, he developed the idea of creating a wax that could make old cars shine like new, by synthesizing the wax directly from certain chemicals, and adding it to commercial car waxes - the resulting mixture, he found, would make any polished surface shine with a fluorescent glow.
Prem, whose hobbies include playing the baritone sax, intends to be an engineer when he grows up.
Rohit Kamat, 13, researched a body hormone after reading that California had banned high school students from using the commercial version. Natural DHEA is beneficial for body and brain functions both, but the chemical that is at its core is infamous because athletes use it as a nutritional, performance enhancing supplement. Natural DHEA production falls with age, and triggers an enhanced risk of Alzheimer's.
Kamat, through his research, came up with safe alternatives to DHEA -a discovery that among other things can create a defense against Alzheimer's. He hopes to be a neuroscientist when he grows up.
Besides the three winners, three other community kids made it to the finals: Subha Raghavendra from Sunnyvale, California; Prithwis Mukhopadhyay of Minnesota; and Keshav Ramaswami of Missouri.
Text and Photograph: Rediff News Bureau
Image: (From left to right) Rohit Kamat, Prem Poothatta Thottumkara and Gokul Krishnan.