A Montgomery Blair High School student placed 10th in the nation Tuesday night in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition.

Shaun Datta, 18, of Gaithersburg, won a $20,000 award for physics research investigating the interaction between baryons in nuclear matter. He and two other Blair seniors were among 40 national finalists considered for the top 10 honors .

“I was very, very surprised,” Datta said Wednesday, praising the research of fellow finalists. “In my opinion, any group of 10 among this 40 could have been the top.”

Montgomery Blair High School, in Silver Spring, had more Intel finalists this year than any other high school in the country. It also ranks first among high schools nationally for the number of finalists since 1999.

Blair’s other finalists included Neil Davey, 18, of Gaithersburg, who researched “Early Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment through the Detection of Circulating Tumor Cells Using Drop-based Microfluidics,” and Jessica Shi, 17, of Rockville, who investigated “The Speeds of Families of Intersection Graphs.”

Datta’s project was called: “Saturated Nuclear Matter in the Large Nc and Heavy Quark Limits of Quantum Chromodynamics.”

On Wednesday, the teenager said he expected to use his award to help pay for college. He has not yet decided which university to attend, he said.

The first-place award of $100,000 in the Intel competition went to Eric S. Chen, 17, of San Diego, for research on potential new drugs to treat the flu.

The 40 finalists this year came from 33 schools in 14 states and were culled from 300 semifinalists.

Virginia and the District did not have finalists this year. Maryland had a fourth, Benjamin Freed, a senior at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick.