By Sarah Wright
President Obama's current economic advisor Lawrence Summers made waves when, as the President of Harvard University, he suggested that women are naturally ill-suited to succeed in math and science. His comments were in response to a long-standing question about why there is such a disparity of gender representation in math and science fields. Though there was public outcry, and Summers' comments haven't been forgotten, there is still a perception in some quarters that math and science isn't for girls. Well, consider that myth busted: three girls recently took top honors in their respective age groups at the Google Science Fair.
The three winners are Lauren Hoge of the 13-14 age group, Naomi Singh of the 15-16 age group and Shree Bose of the 17-18 age group. Ms. Bose was also chosen as the grand prize winner. The girls were selected from a mixed-gender pool of 15 finalists from the U.S, Singapore, Canada, South Africa and India. LEGO is a sponsor of the contest, and the girls were all awarded colorful LEGO brick trophies to mark their accomplishments.
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The Winning Projects
Each girl's winning project focused on a different area of science, math or technology. Ms. Bose's project, titled 'AMPK and Cisplatin Resistance' was entered in the biology category. This project was impressively advanced for a high school student, and focused on treatment methods relating to ovarian cancer. The title refers to cisplatin, a drug commonly used to treat ovarian cancer, and AMP kinease, a cell protein that may be related to the development of resistance to cisplatin.
Ms. Singh's project was in the computer science and math category. This project, titled 'A Novel Aid with Facial Detection, Facial Recognition, and Audio Analysis Capabilities for Patients with Dementia or Communication Disorders and their Caretakers,' sought a technological solution to the problem of dementia patients describing their day-to-day activities to caretakers.
Ms. Hoge, the youngest winner, entered a project in the biology category titled 'A Spicy Situation in Alzheimer's Disease.' Her hypothesis was that cinnamon might help decrease a chemical compound in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer's disease. Though her hypothesis was not correct, she won for her age group.
About the Contest
The Google Science Fair is open to students from all nations except those sanctioned by the United States (North Korea and Zimbabwe, for example). Students who attend public, private and home school are all eligible to enter. There are multiple categories in which projects can be entered, including flora and fauna, physics, electricity and electronics, chemistry and food science. Judges for the 2011 competition included such 'science luminaries' as Mariette DiChristina, Editor in Chief of Scientific American and Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN.
15 finalists are chosen from the pool of applicants. Those finalists are then flown to Google HQ in Mountain View, CA for final judging. In addition to their awesome LEGO trophies, this year's winners were awarded prizes including scholarships from Google, personalized LEGO mosaics and a 'once in a lifetime experience' from CERN, LEGO, Google or Scientific American. In addition to these prizes, the grand prize winner, Ms. Bose, won a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, courtesy of National Geographic. Congratulations, girls!
The success of these three girls is likely to be welcome news to female academics in math and science fields, particularly at MIT, where gender disparities are being addressed with mixed results.