updated 12/9/2003 9:47:31 PM ET 2003-12-10T02:47:31

A 17-year-old from New York City won a leading science competition for high school students Monday for research that helps explain how the brain works.

Yin Li, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, emerged ahead of five other students to win the 2003-04 Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Li, who plans to study neurobiology and molecular biology in college, won a $100,000 scholarship.

He discovered a protein with properties that could be related to neural function, and his work explores how protein synthesis may govern the strength of connections between neurons.

“Through creative and original research, this young scientist has increased our understanding of how the brain works on the most fundamental level,” said judge Victor Ambros, professor of genetics at Dartmouth Medical School.

Two brothers, Mark and Jeffrey Schneider of South Windsor, Conn., won in the team category, finishing ahead of five other teams. Their research project has the potential to help reduce the spread of West Nile Virus. The two will split a $100,000 scholarship.

All the finalists advanced through regional judging by faculty at six leading research universities as part of the competition, now in its fifth year. Over the weekend, students displayed their projects for the public and presented them to the judges.

Incredible questions

The 12 judges evaluated the entries on such measures as comprehensiveness and clarity — not just how well the students designed and tested their hypotheses, but also how well they could interpret the data, explain it concisely and apply it to future endeavors.

“All of these people deserve the prize, because every one of these efforts is exciting,” said Kathie Olson, the lead judge and associate director of President Bush’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. “From bones to climate change to astronomy to chemistry — it’s incredible the questions they’re asking.”

The recognition of team science is significant, too, Olson said, because it reflects a trend in which researchers from different disciplines are exploring complex issues together.

The other finalists won between $50,000 to $10,000 in scholarships. Members of the two-person and three-person teams will share the awards.

The New Jersey-based Siemens Foundation, founded in 1998, aims to increase access to higher education among gifted students studying math, science and technology. The foundation distributes more than $1 million annually in scholarships, grants and awards.

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