In the summer of 1979, Gary M. Griner Jr. came across a seismograph design in the pages of Scientific American magazine. After making a few modifications to the design and using $40 worth of materials, he created his own version of the device. Griner placed his seismograph in the crawlspace beneath his parents’ home in Huntsville, Alabama. A generous instrument manufacturer provided him with additional equipment that recorded the earth tremors detected by the seismograph. Over a period of 18 months, the 17-year-old Griner recorded earthquake activity from various parts of the world, including Japan, Alaska, and the Indian Ocean, from distances as far as 10,510 miles.
During his research, Griner cross-referenced his data with reports from the U.S. Geological Survey, the government agency responsible for monitoring earthquakes. By analyzing information on 53 earthquake tremors, he was able to determine the speed of earthquake waves as they traveled through the Earth’s core. Recently, Griner and his seismograph traveled to Washington D.C to take part in the five-day Science Talent Institute. He was joined by 39 other high school seniors, 27 boys and 13 girls, from different states who were also finalists in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. This competition, which has been running for 41 years, is jointly sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Corporation and Science Service, a non-profit education organization. The finalists were chosen from a pool of nearly 1,000 senior students from 49 states who presented their science projects for the competition.
Out of the 40 finalists, ten scholarship winners and two alternates were selected. Additionally, the top 300 entrants were recommended for scholarships by colleges and universities due to their promising scientific potential. Throughout the five-day program in Washington, the students showcased their projects to a panel of eight judges who were scientists. They also had the opportunity to meet with other scientists and government officials, including Vice President George Bush. The students’ projects covered a wide range of scientific fields. For example, 16-year-old Reena B. Gordon from Brooklyn, New York, won the first-place scholarship of $12,000. Her project involved constructing a mathematical model that she believes represents the process listeners automatically go through in correctly interpreting the natural ambiguities in language. Gordon, who is currently at the top of her class at Midwood High School, plans to pursue a research career in artificial intelligence at Harvard University.
The students selected for the competition are considered some of the most promising young scientists in the United States. Westinghouse officials state that approximately 70% of the talent-search winners have gone on to earn Ph.D.’s, which is more than two-and-a-half times the average rate for college graduates. Many of these students have gone on to receive prestigious scientific accolades. Out of the approximately 1,600 finalists in the past 41 years, 16 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Within the last decade, five winners have been awarded Nobel prizes, including Roald Hoffman, a Chemistry Nobel laureate who was a finalist in the Science Talent Search in 1955. The competition has even earned the nickname "Nobel Farm Club." Two former winners have also received the Fields medal, a highly sought-after mathematics prize that some consider more prestigious than the Nobel. The Science Talent Search was created and continues to serve as a way to encourage high school seniors to pursue careers in science and engineering. Apart from the all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, all 40 finalists receive some form of financial reward.
In addition to the tangible rewards, participation in the Science Talent Search provides intangible benefits for the students involved. It exposes them to a community of scientists and researchers, allowing them to network and gain valuable connections. The opportunity to present their projects to a panel of esteemed judges and interact with other like-minded individuals further fuels their passion for science and engineering.
"It would have absolutely no impact whatsoever if there were no monetary reward involved," stated Jared A. Silverman, a 17-year-old from West Long Branch, N.J., who conducted research on how an intracellular parasite obtains a crucial energy-carrying compound. According to him, the significance lies in recognizing one’s accomplishment.
The finalists were also delighted to have the opportunity to meet other individuals their age who share the same passion and knowledge in science. "Here, all 40 of us are like a family, and we take great pride in being together," expressed Ogan Gurel, a 17-year-old from Stuyvesant High School in New York City, who was chosen by the other finalists to speak at the formal awards dinner that concluded the event. Several of the young men also noted the additional enjoyment of discovering that some of the finalists were young women.
The top 12 finalists included: Sharon Marcus from Jamaica High School in Flushing, N.Y., who was the second alternate; John R. Malinowski from Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills, N.Y., the first alternate; Lynne P. Snyder from Smithtown High School West in Smithtown, N.Y., 10th place; Saechin Kim from Bronx High School of Science in Long Island City, N.Y., ninth place; Noam D. Elkies from Stuyvesant High School in New York City, eighth place; Niels P. Mayer from Corona del Mar High School in Corona del Mar, Calif., seventh place; Mitchell Tsai from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio, sixth place; Theron W. Stanford from San Marino High School in San Marino, Calif., fifth place; Helen E. Getto from Lane Technical High School in Chicago, fourth place; Ogan Gurel from Stuyvesant High School in New York City, third place; Ronald M. Kantor from Riverdale Country School in Bronx, N.Y., second place; Reena B. Gordon from Midwood High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., first place.