The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair began awarding prizes Friday morning to some of the 1,800 high school students from around the world who competed for top honors and about $5 million in prizes.
The fair, held at downtown L.A.'s Convention Center, brings science-loving teens from 70 different countries together under the sponsorship of tech giant Intel, and the nonprofit Society for Science and the Public.
"There's not a single vinegar volcano here for those of us who remember that," said Wendy Hawkins, the Executive Director of the Intel Foundation. "These kids have been scientists. They haven't been studying about science, they haven't been filling out bubbles on standardized tests, they've been tackling real problems."
Millions of students competed in regional feeder science fairs to make it to the final science fair. About two-thirds of the students are from the U.S., and there is about even representation between male and female entrants. Hawkins pointed out that young women actually win a disproportionately higher number of awards compared to their numbers in the competition.
One local award-winner, Shreya Ramayya of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School was developing new anti-malarial drugs to combat the problem in areas where the strain had become drug-resistant. Ramayya won an American Chemical Society Award and a scholarship from the University of Sciences in Philadelphia.
Another local rising star, Petra Grutzik, a senior at Redondo Union High School, won an award from the American Psychological Association for her research on a protein called FoxP2, which is found in human and songbird brains and can cause communication disorders in both.
Grutzik said it's not the prizes that made the experience so valuable, but a chance to learn from so many peers who have just as much passion for science as she does.
"It's so much fun to walk up to someone and just have a smile on your face because I just got the autograph from the Nobel Prize winner who invented the green fluorescent protein that I use in my project and to be surrounded by a hundred other people who are also fan-girls over Nobel laureates, it's just so much fun."