If finishing your dissertation in graduate school seemed insurmountable, just look at what four high school students have accomplished. Each won an APA-sponsored prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), held in San Jose, Calif., May 6-12. Science Service, the nonprofit organization that also organizes the better-known Intel Science Talent Search, runs the fair.

"This is the crème de la crème of high school science fairs," says Alice F. Chang, PhD, who has been heading APA's team of contest judges since 1996. "Twenty years ago, graduate students were doing the kind of work that these high school students are doing. The students keep you challenged and on your toes."

More than 1,200 students from the United States and abroad compete in ISEF, which bills itself as "the Olympics, the World Series and the World Cup of science competition."

The top winners

Shari Melissa Morris, 18, of Plainview, N.Y., who did independent research for three years on the psychosocial impact of breast cancer on women and their families, garnered first prize and $1,000.

"Breast cancer is a huge issue on Long Island, where I live," says Morris. Working with her mentor Elinor Schoenfeld, PhD, of the epidemiology department at State University of New York-Stony Brook, she created an online survey that was completed by 1,462 women with breast cancer. After tabulating the results, she found that a top concern among all women was their own mortality. Second most important to older women was "adaptation to surgery," while younger women were more worried about their families' well-being.

In addition, "older women really wanted to just get through it and move on," whereas "young women were more worried about how it will look," she says.

Morris is now a freshman at New York University, where she plans to study psychology.

Second place and $500 went to friends Humberto Frausto Jr., 18, and Jose Gerardo Contreras Jr., 18, of Laredo, Texas, who studied the effects of ginkgo biloba on learning and behavior in older rats. Each has lost a grandparent to Alzheimer's disease.

Contreras worked on a research paper on Alzheimer's disease, Frausto explains, in which he found that ginkgo biloba might be a memory enhancer.

Their interest piqued, the two embarked on the project with rats. "My mom would have a fit, bringing 12 rats to the house," Frausto says.

Rats that had ingested higher doses of ginkgo biloba showed greater activity levels and, on average, traveled more quickly through a maze than those rats who had received either half as much or no ginkgo biloba.

Contreras is a freshman at University of Texas-Austin this fall. Frausto plans to start at University of Texas-San Antonio in the spring.

Renata Ann Bankowski, 17, of Redford, Mich., earned third prize and $250 for her project exploring whether bilinguals had better cognitive skills than their monolingual peers. Bankowski's interest in the topic stemmed from her own history: She became bilingual in kindergarten when she learned English after speaking Polish for her first five years. Her father always told her the reason she excelled in English and Spanish classes was because she grew up bilingual. She wanted to see for herself.

In her study of 50 girls, half of them bilingual, Bankowski looked at meta-linguistic ability, basic verbal memorization, foreign language acquisition and field dependence. On average, bilinguals scored 8.6 percent higher than monolinguals. They particularly shined in their average rate of memorization, which was 56.9 percent higher than monolinguals.

Bankowski is a senior at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Honorable mentions

Nine other students won honorable mentions for their psychology-related studies:

  • Frank Gerald Aguilar, 16, Lane Technical High School, Chicago, on "Enhanced infrared navigation for the blind."

  • Erika Amanda Hess, 18, Harlingen High School, Harlingen, Texas, on "Zinc related to memory in mice."

  • Megan Marjorie Hicks, 16, and Rachel Renae Hicks, 16, Champlin Park High School, Champlin, Minn., "Twin telepathy, it takes two: phase II."

  • Christina Marie Matthews, 14, South River High School, Edgewater, Md., "Effect of color on peripheral vision."

  • Lacey Ann Millet, 18, Lutcher High School, Lutcher, La., on "Mighty Mouse: effects of exercise on memory retention."

  • Eynav Nahoum, 18, Leo Baeck High School, Haifa, Israel, on "An intervention program to decrease aggressive behavior in preschool children."

  • Guillermo Enrique Teran, 14, Colegio Pablo Apostol, Yerba Buena, Tucuman, Argentina, on "Cognition: is it possible in fish?"

  • Korri Ayn Thiessen, 15, Oregon Episcopal School, Portland, Ore., "Stress and age on APE neuro-protein correlated base excision DNA repair."

Each winner received a certificate from APA, a packet of information on APA initiatives, an APA pin and a congratulatory letter signed by Cynthia Belar, PhD, executive director of the Education Directorate.

The panel of APA judges looked at 110 of the more than 1,000 projects. Most were in the behavioral science category, but about 25 projects were also judged in the categories of health medicine, gerontology, computer science and environmental science.

Other ISEF categories include biochemistry, botany, earth and space sciences, engineering, mathematics, microbiology, physics and zoology.

Further Reading

The 2002 Intel ISEF will be held in Louisville, Ky., May 12-18. For more information, go to the Science Service's Web site at www.sciserv.org/isef.