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2 Indian-Americans win Westinghouse Competition

By Suman Guha Mozumder in New York
Last updated on: December 06, 2005 03:34 IST
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Two Indian-American high school students are among six individual category winners of the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition National Finals for 2005-06 announced in New York on Monday morning.

Besides the individual category, in which Kiran Pendri of Wellingford, Connecticut, secured the second position with a $50,000 scholarship and Desh Mohan of Denton, Texas, bagged the fourth one with a $30,000 scholarship, two Indian-Americans also won scholarship as members of six teams that participated in the national competition.

Benjamin Pollack and Abhinav Khanna of Plainview, New York, who worked as a team, got the second position with a $50,000 scholarship while Amardeep Grewal of Beverley Hills, Michigan and Ran Li of Valley Stream, New York secured the fourth position in the same category.

'These students have done magnificent work that any researcher would be proud of," said Chairman of the Board of the Siemens Foundation Thomas N. McCausland.

"The fact that they are still in high school makes their achievement all the more remarkable. Imagine what these young scholars will accomplish as adults," he said.

The national finals were judged by a panel of prominent scientists and mathematicians headed by lead judge Dr. Constance Atwell, consultant and former Director for Extramural Research, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at The National Institutes of Health.

"On behalf of all the judges, I congratulate these outstanding young scientists and mathematicians on reaching the highest level of achievement in this extremely challenging competition," said Dr Atwell.

Nineteen students competed in the National Finals, including six individuals and six teams. The national finalists previously competed in a series of regional competitions held at six leading research universities over three consecutive weekends in November.

Pendri's project incorporates recent Nobel Prize-winning chemistry research and contributes to the ongoing understanding of the art of synthesising organic molecules.

This study might contribute to future pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing developments.  

Essentially creating a new 'Lego' shape, or building block, for creating new molecules, macrocyclisation using a Ring-closing Olefin Metathesis allows for the creation of a useful mid-sized molecular ring that can serve as a precursor for the synthesis of new chemical species.

His mentors were Professor Erik Sorensen and Dr Brian Goess, Princeton University.

Fluent in Telugu, Pendri, a senior, is a member of the varsity math team and the senior judicial committee.  

He is the first boat coxswain for the Choate boys' crew team and president of the Choate Indian Association. Previously, Pendri received honors at the 2003 General Electric Connecticut High School Computer Science Contest and was selected for the Connecticut math team. He enjoys reading and investing using analytical tools. He plans to study chemistry in college.

Mohan's research, on the other hand, may contribute to the understanding and potential clinical management of anoxic diseases such as strokes. By studying the survival rate of male and hermaphrodite C. elegans nematodes in oxygen-deprived conditions, he was able to identify the hsp 12.6 gene as a factor in male anoxia survival.

His mentor was Dr Pamela A Padilla of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas.

Fluent in Tamil, Mohan, a senior, enjoys playing basketball and tennis and performs the tabla at cultural festivals and celebrations. He credits his father with nurturing his curiosity in math and science, and hopes to become a medical geneticist.

Mohan is an active member of his high school, participating in the medical society, sports club, HOPE – a community service organisation, and the BalVikas Religious Youth Club.

The Siemens Westinghouse Competition was launched in 1998 to recognise America's best and brightest students in math, science and technology. This year, 1,684 students entered the competition, a 13 percent increase over the previous year.

The foundation provides nearly $2 million in college scholarships and awards each year for talented high school students in the United States, recognising exceptional achievement in science, math and technology.

By supporting outstanding students, and recognising the teachers and schools that inspire their excellence, the foundation helps nurture scientists and engineers.

The entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists at six leading research universities which host the regional competitions - Carnegie Mellon University (Middle States), University of Notre Dame (Midwest), University of California, Berkeley (West), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (New England), Georgia Institute of Technology (South), and The University of Texas at Austin (Southwest).

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Suman Guha Mozumder in New York