The chemistry lab in John Liebermann's classroom at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School is not a typical high school lab.
The bright yellow room is filled with what Liebermann estimates is about $40,000 worth of equipment, including nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, atomic absorption spectrophotometers and high-performance liquid chromatographs that he has persuaded private firms and federal agencies to donate when they're no longer needed.
"I have an uncle who works at NIH the National Institutes of Health and he can't believe the equipment we've got," said Kent New, an 18-year-old student in Liebermann's organic chemistry class. "Some of it's old, but it works. And Dr. Liebermann pushes the School Board to get stuff like this. So when we win contests, it helps."
If winning contests does help, more supplies should be coming Liebermann's way. New and six other T.C. Williams seniors are among 300 students from across the country whose individual science research projects have qualified them for the 44th annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search honors group.
Forty Westinghouse finalists, including New, will compete next month in Washington for college scholarships ranging from $500 to $12,000.
T.C. Williams has an average of three students a year who qualify for the honors list. But the seven who made it this year, one of the largest contingents ever for T.C. Williams, means Alexandria is second only to New York City in having the largest numbers of honorees.
Those seven were chosen from 1,069 high school students who entered the competition nationally.
The T.C. Williams seniors, all members of Liebermann's organic chemistry class, have spent hundreds of hours, including lunch periods and weekends, working on their projects.
New, an aspiring chemical engineer or physician, produced a winning project titled, "Effects of Structure on Reactivity as Illustrated by the Production of Phenylurethane from Reactants of Varying Structures." It involves the reactions of isocyanates and alcohol and required the use of an infrared spectrophotometer, using the titration method, explained New with an air of nonchalance.
He worked on it for almost two months in his junior year, and from September to December last year, spending -- as did the other six students -- at least three hours a day after class in the lab.
Nancy Gilman, 17, worked on a project involving the kinetics of secondary cyclic alcohols. "It really was fun," she said. "So often you sit there and learn stuff, but don't get a chance to apply it . . . . Here, you can apply it."
Michael Fitzgerald, 18, worked during the summer at the Food and Drug Administration on his project, which involved the decomposition of Aspartame. Youssef Yassa, 17, solicited animal bones from the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum for his study, "Zinc Contents in Bones as an Indication of Diet."
Dun Ngo Trinh, 17, had a project involving diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acids, and Waverly Marsh, 17, who wants to be a nuclear engineer in the Navy, studied "The Effect of Temperature and Solvent on the Keto-enol Tautomerism on Various Beta-carbonyl compounds."
Henry Via had a rare absence from school yesterday and was not available to explain his project. But it was easy to tell from the title, "Determination of the Enthalpy of Solution of Lead Chloride from Ksp's of PbCl2 at Various Temperatures," that few would have understood it anyway.