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Young scientist in running for $100,000 prize

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By Carol A. Clark

Festooned with colorful balloons and a $1,000 check, an Intel Prize Patrol surprised Los Alamos High School senior Ben Dozier in his classroom this morning. Dozier is a semifinalist in the 2008 Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) contest, which is considered the oldest and most prestigious high school science competition in the nation.  “We’re very excited we have a semifinalist in New Mexico,” said Intel Corporate Affairs Manager Jami Grindatto. “It doesn’t happen every year. Ben exemplifies the research culture we have here in New Mexico.”The national competition helps find that exceptional talent in students who’ve done well in math, science and engineering, he said.“We need to view these students as rock stars,” Grindatto said. “Math, science and engineering is extremely important to the future of America.”Dozier’s mother is Hungarian and his father is from Santa Clara Pueblo and neither work at the lab, his father Miguel said. “I’m a physician for Indian Health Service and my wife is a teacher at McCurdy High School in Española,” he said. “Ben first became interested in math while in elementary school during science fairs. I think this is a real reflection on the strength and depth of the support the schools have provided for students who are interested in math and science.”The STS award represents the culmination of years of effort not only from Ben, his father said, but also from the entire educational community.“We’re very proud of Ben and grateful for the support he’s received from the many people who’ve encouraged his progress,” Miguel said.Dozier, 18, described his award winning project. “Consider a bit or binary string, a finite sequence of 0’s and 1’s,” he said. “Suppose we wish to know how ‘complex’ this bit string is. We define the complexity of a bit string as the shortest sentence (in the formal mathematical language of first order logic) that uniquely describes that bit string. We explore how this complexity behaves when we consider random bit strings and let the length of the bit string approach infinity. This behavior is dependent on a function that determines the probabilities associated with the randomness. We classify the behavior for a large class of such functions." Dozier hasn’t made a decision yet about college. His father said at this point he’s admitted to MIT and is leaning that way but waiting to hear from Harvard and Princeton. “I think this proves we have exceptional teachers who meet the needs of our students and therefore gain the guidance to succeed,” said Los Alamos County Councilor Nona Bowman, who participated in this morning’s event.School board members Jody Benson and Joan Ahlers also turned out to congratulate Dozier. “We’re very proud and very excited to see Los Alamos Public Schools recognized in this way,” Ahlers said. “Ben is one of our exemplary students and we’re happy to have him here.”Benson presented Dozier with a set of pencils on behalf of the board saying, “Sometimes a genius still needs a pencil.” Dozier is one of 300 high school seniors named semifinalists of the annual Intel STS. The semifinalists were chosen out of 1,602 entrants from 45 states and 504 high schools. Each semifinalist receives $1,000 with an additional $1,000 going to their schools, resulting in $600,000 in total awards.On Jan. 30, 40 finalists will be named. If Dozier is one of them, he will join the 39 other students on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., in March to compete for more than $500,000. Of these finalists, 10 will be chosen for top honors with the grand prize winner receiving $100,000.The Society for Science & the Public (SSP), a nonprofit organization, which works to advance the understanding and appreciation of science, has administered the Science Talent Search since its inception in 1942. Los Alamos County Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson was a semifinalist 40 years ago and congratulated Dozier this morning. “This is wonderful and probably appreciated and understood more in this community than in others,” Gibson said.