msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/19/2005 9:49:56 PM ET 2005-10-20T01:49:56

The 14-year-old winner of this year’s “Top Young Scientist” competition says she’s always wondered if it was possible to put an end to world hunger.

The question inspired Neela Thangada to develop a research project that involved cloning potatoes and then studying them under different conditions. The ninth-grader from San Antonio said her goal was to prove that “cloning potatoes accelerates plant growth and promotes higher yields.”

Thangada says she came up with the idea after getting a firsthand look at poverty in India and seeing pictures of suffering in Africa and Central America.

Thangada was singled out Wednesday from among 40 finalists in the annual competition that’s sponsored by the Discovery Channel. She said she was very excited about winning the top prize, a $20,000 college scholarship.

The second-place winner in the competition was 14-year-old Nilesh Tripuraneni of Fresno, Calif. Third place was awarded to 13-year-old Mary Lou Hedberg of North Attleboro, Mass. Second- and third-place winners received $10,000 and $5,000 scholarships, respectively.

The National Park Service Explorer Team Award was given to Iftin Abshir, Littleton, Colo.; Anudeep Gosal, Orlando, Fla.; Elijah Mena, Gales Ferry, Conn.; Colleen Ryan, Chillicothe, Ohio; and Alexander Uribe, Eagle Mountain, Utah.

Special prizes were awarded by various networks and corporate partners of Discovery Communications. The winners were:

  • Elijah Mena (Gales Ferry, Conn.): Discovery Channel Ice Age Award
  • Anudeep Gosal (Orlando, Fla.): Lowell Observatory Star Gazer Award
  • Mary Lou Hedberg (North Attleboro, Mass.): Travel Channel Dream Science Trip Award
  • Gregory Lavins (Solon, Ohio): Discovery Home Image Maker Award
  • John Bolander (Memphis, Ind.): Discovery Commerce Sights to See Award
  • Susan Pasternak (Santa Barbara, Calif.): Discovery Health Channel Science Camp Award
  • Camden Miller (Fairview, Texas): Animal Planet Animals Everywhere Award
  • Garrett Yazzie (Pinon, Ariz.): The Science Channel Space Camp Award
  • Ruslan Werntz (Coppell, Texas): TLC Science of Production Award
  • Sheel Tyle (Pittsford, N.Y.): Discovery Kids TV Star Award
  • Joshua Jones (Titusville, Fla.): Military Channel Army/Navy Award
  • Melanie Kabinoff (Boynton Beach, Fla.): Discovery Education Educator Award

For this year's competition, the 40 finalists tackled science experiments centered on the theme, "Forces of Nature" at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House. In the wake of the recent natural disasters that ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States and Southeast Asia, the teams faced simulated challenges — from fog banks to hurricanes to tsunamis — that required them to draw upon a broad range of knowledge in order to understand the implications and scope of natural disasters.

The students were judged based on a composite of scores earned from oral presentations of their individual science projects, which they presented at the National Academy of Sciences, and their participation during the two days of team competition.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and Discovery Communications.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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