Teen Whiz Kids Bag $630,000 in Prizes at Intel Science Fair

Eric Chen, 17, won first prize at the Intel Science Talent Search for his project investigating potential new flu drugs. Chris Ayers / Intel

A 17-year-old from California took home $100,000 in prize money as winner of the Intel Science Talent Search for his work on anti-flu drugs.

Eric Chen used computer models to pin down a potential class of drugs that would work by tripping up endonucleases, enzymes that viruses use to multiply.

The Canyon Crest Academy high-schooler has been working with researchers at labs at UC San Diego, using supercomputers in his modeling work. He became interested in pandemics after an outbreak of swine flu in 2009 in nearby San Diego.

It’s third big win in the last few months for Chen, who took home the top prize in the Google Science Fair in October and the top spot in the Siemens Foundation science contest in December.

Jazz pianist Kevin Lee, 17, from Irvine, Calif., took the second prize and $75,000 cash reward in the Intel science contest for finding a new way to describe the rhythm of the heart as it beats. Such work could be used to better detect arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.

William Kuszmaul, 17, from the Lexington, Mass., won third place and $50,000 for his mathematical work in an area called modular enumeration.

Forty finalists gathered in Washington to present their projects at the National Geographic Society this week, and the top 10 winners were announced at a gala Tuesday evening. More than 1,700 students entered the contest this year.

Seven other high-schoolers made the top 10:

Fourth: Joshua Abraham Meier of Teaneck, N.J., received a $40,000 award for his identification of a gene that controls the rapid aging of artificially generated stem cells, which could lead to new treatments for cancer.

Fifth: Natalie Ng of Cupertino, Calif., received $30,000 for developing a diagnostic tool to more accurately predict the spread of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Sixth: Aron Coraor of Huntington, N.Y., received $25,000 for his research that may explain why a certain mineral exists in two different forms in the highlands of the moon.

Seventh: Zarin Ibnat Rahman of Brookings, S.D., received $25,000 for her research of the effects of increased recreational screen time on adolescent sleep patterns, stress and learning.

Eighth: Anand Srinivasan of Roswell, Ga., received $20,000 for his neural-network-based computer model, RNNScan, which “learns” patterns in DNA to predict the boundaries of certain genomic regions.

Ninth: John Anthony Clarke of Syosset, N.Y., received $20,000 for his research of X-ray emissions from the planet Jupiter, a gas giant that harnesses a powerful magnetic field.

Tenth: Shaun Datta of North Potomac, Md., received a $20,000 award for his research that used computer models and equations to improve the understanding of the interactions of nuclear matter.