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ND to host regional science competiton

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, November 20, 2003

Eight high school students from the Midwestern United States will present projects in the Siemens regional competition Friday and Saturday at Notre Dame’s Eck Center and McKenna Hall for Continuing Education.

Notre Dame is hosting the event for the fifth year as part of the Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition, an annual scholarship program for talented high school students from across the United States.

Paul Helquist, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, participated as a judge to narrow the field of applicants.

“Projects are evaluated by judges representing all fields of science, math and technology,” he said. “The job of the judges is to narrow down the field from the original 1,000 to 48 projects.”

Once the 48 projects have been selected, they are distributed geographically into six regions. Over the five-year history of the competition, Notre Dame has hosted students from the Midwest region. Helquist said that both the application and selection processes have proven intensive.

“Each region has their own independent judges,” Helquist said. “The applicants must go through a process of creating posters, reports, oral presentations and a detailed question-and-answer session.”

One individual and one team from each of the six regions advance to the national competition in Washington D.C., held at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. A separate judging process occurs at the national level, after which each team and individual is ranked and prizes are awarded accordingly.

“The stakes are pretty high at that level – the winning individual receives $100,000 scholarship and then, likewise, the winning team receives $100,000,” Helquist said.

High school students arriving Friday will be escorted around campus by Notre Dame student hosts and will also participate in a poster presentation of their research Friday.

Leon Lederman, Nobel Laureate in Physics, will serve as the event’s keynote speaker Friday afternoon. The regional competition will take place on Saturday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Helquist said that he is consistently amazed at the advanced caliber of each student’s work.

“All of us judges, by the time we are done with this each year, are really just blown over in terms of [the] extremely high levels these students are working [at], especially the ones that go on to win. The level at which they have succeeded in their projects is something we might expect [from] a student … studying for a PhD,” he said.