Loudoun, Maryland teens claim top spots at international science fair

Loudoun County science whiz Ari Dyckovsky, who was one of 40 teenage finalists in the 2012 national Intel Science Talent Search for his work in quantum physics, was among the top three winners announced Friday at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, the world’s largest high school science research competition.

Although Dyckovsky, 18, did not claim one of the top spots at the talent search competition in March, his work in quantum teleportation earned him a place in the international science fair, where he was awarded one of two $50,000 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards last week.

The other Young Scientist Award went to Nicholas Schiefer, 17, of Ontario, Canada, who studied the ability to search small amounts of Internet content, such as tweets and Facebook status updates. The competition’s first-place Gordon E. Moore Award, a $75,000 prize, went to another teen from the Washington region — Jack Andraka, 15, of Crownsville, who devised a noninvasive method to detect pancreatic cancer.

Dyckovsky was among more than 1,500 young scientists chosen to compete in the contest, selected from 446 affiliate science fairs (including the Intel Science Talent Search) in about 70 countries, regions and territories, the Intel Corp. announcement said.

“It’s been incredible — I didn’t think I had a chance, but people were so interested in my project. And everyone else I talked to here was so brilliant. We all appreciate each other’s work so much,” Dyckovsky said, shortly after the top prizes were announced. “I’m pretty speechless.”

Over the past few years, Dyckovsky has spent many hours researching quantum “entanglement” with his mentor, Steven Olmschenk, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.

Dyckovsky said his research shows how, through the entanglement process, information from one atom can be made to appear in a second atom when the quantum state of the first atom is destroyed.

It’s a complicated concept, but the potential impact is significant: The entanglement method could ultimately allow organizations to send encrypted messages without the risk of interception, because the information would not actually travel to its new location — it would simply appear there.

Dyckovsky, a senior at Heritage High School and the Loudoun Academy of Science, plans to continue his education at Stanford University on a scholarship in the fall.

“I’m going to start with studying mathematics, and we’ll see from there,” he said.

Andraka, who took the top prize for his creation of a dip-stick sensor that can test blood or urine to detect early-stage pancreatic cancer, said he also has high hopes for his research.

Andraka said he was inspired to examine early detection methods after his uncle and a friend’s brother died of the disease.

“I knew that I really wanted to do something for the field, so I started doing my own research into diagnostic tests,” he said.

Andraka’s study showed that his patent-pending sensor, which has more than 90 percent accuracy, is 28 times faster, 28 times less expensive and more than 100 times more sensitive than current tests, according to the competition announcement.

“What I really want to do with this is get it into regular screenings, so that every single person can have it and make sure they’re safe,” Andraka said. “This can detect it before the cancer becomes invasive, so it can really help people survive.”

In addition to the top three winners, more than 400 finalists received awards and prizes for their work, the Intel Corp. said in a statement.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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