Dorothy Schriver was calm as the weekend began, though her 40 teen-agers were utterly out of sight, presumably musing on Galileo at the Mayflower but not necessarily.
Schriver for 44 years has run the youth programs of Science Service, which handles the Westinghouse Science Talent Search -- a program to honor and encourage high-schoolers doing well in science subjects. Before anybody wonders if these are kids who invent one-legged ladders and machines for opening toothpaste tube caps, Schriver alludes in an offhand way to five Nobel laureates who earlier took part as teen-agers in these contests.
"Any of them ever blow up the Hilton?" you might inquire.
"They're at the Mayflower," she said, not that that's an answer, but these young people, to hear her tell it, are more enchanting than all the lemurs of Madagascar and a total joy to deal with.
"Oh, sometimes they make a little noise, you know how young people do make noise as they talk. Sometimes I've had phone calls rather late at night from the hotel saying they're sitting in the hall in a mass in one of their jam sessions and of course sometimes other people want to sleep. You just persuade them to go in a room.
"I guess the coldest night in the coldest February we ever had I got a call from one of the winners, who cried for help. His project involved a coati-mundi which had bitten the stars out of him, and I got him to an emergency room. He had to have a few stitches and shots and so on, but the thing was the emergency room was swamped with people bleeding to death from terrible accidents. We sat there six hours. I remember that night well.
"Another night I got a call from a young fellow who asked me if I'd come down, since he thought his lung had collapsed. Well, it had. They had to pump it up at the hospital, and he was more than somewhat annoyed with the doctor who refused to let him get up and go to parties for two or three days.
"They are, of course, highly intelligent. They come from all classes. In the '40s you saw a lot of Jews, refugees from Europe, and now you see a lot of Asians. When I ask them how it happens that newcomers to America do so well, they always seem to tell me it's because they respect their parents and know how much they've sacrificed. They are determined to make their families proud of them.
"About 1:30 one night I was waked up by a guard at the Lincoln Memorial who demanded to know if it was true I was in charge of these kids who said they were on some science project, and I said indeed I was.
" 'Well, you'd do me a favor to come down here and get them. There are 17 of them and one of them is climbing in Lincoln's lap.' "
The things guards fidget about are hardly to be believed, of course. Schriver seems to be a woman who never fidgets. She sits behind a desk in her N Street office in a silk dress of many subdued colors, her gold-silver hair in flawless coif, with a gold chain round her neck and a curious ornament on her corsage. It's a gold pin that used to hold a watch -- her late mother's engagement present -- with the gold tiepin of her father set as a centerpiece, and her own wedding ring as a pendant. (Nothing from her three sons.) Her husband, a lawyer, says it must be a highly convenient piece of jewelry for her; if she has one of those days when one has had it with the family, she can just unpin them all in a heap.
She goes every year to Stockholm for the Nobel awards in December. She has no background in science but fancies she has picked up a bit in a half-century.
"I went to secretarial school. Then I went to George Washington University, then I got this job. It's the only one I ever had.
"There was a wonderful man, Watson Davis, who used to say the important thing for young people was to get their hands dirty and their minds disturbed, then you might make a scientist of them. This talent search started from that.
"You understand that despite the laureates, not all these bright people go on in science. One has become a professor of Greek at Wesleyan; another found he was better working with his hands and went into electronics consulting.
"I don't see much difference in them over the decades, except that now the women are more likely to be in mathematics. In the old days they were in biology. They feel more free now to enter a science like mathematics.
"The first time I was invited to Stockholm [General Motors sponsors the trip with two outstanding youngsters] I was walking down the receiving line and this man said, 'I know you, but you've forgotten me.' He was winning a Nobel Prize and he had been one of our boys -- I was so ashamed I hadn't done my homework, but it just hadn't occurred to me he'd be winning the prize." (This was Leon Cooper, a Nobelist in physics in 1972, who was a talent winner in 1947.)
Winners of $89,000 in scholarships will be announced Monday, but exhibits devised by the teen-agers are on public display at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW, in the Great Hall, 1 to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow. One year, in that hall, a youngster was approached by an impressive but amiable old gentleman who politely inquired about the boy's scientific interests.
"I want to study at Stanford," the lad said, "but I don't have much hope I'll be accepted."
"On the contrary, I assure you you will be accepted," the man said. He was a major wheel at Stanford, and the boy went.
"A thing that's impressed me," Schriver said, "is that almost always these young people tell me it was in junior high that science first really bowled them over. It says something for teachers in the lower grades."
Girls occasionally have crises, too, at these annual events, though none has yet been chewed up by a jungle beast. One year about 30 of the contestants were packed in a hotel room, all over the floor and the bed and the window sills, jammed in and all lost in liveliest talk. One girl who was leaving walked down the bed and reached out to balance herself against a wall, which was a door, which was opened just at that moment and squeezed her thumb horribly. The pain was unthinkable. Have no fear, however, it was all okay in the end, and besides, Ma Schriver was there as usual to bend heaven and earth and get things moving the best possible way.