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Wisconsin Middle Schooler Named 'America's Top Young Scientist' in National Challenge

Discovery and 3M have selected a grand prize winner in their joint 2010 National Young Scientist Challenge (YSC). Liam McCarty, an eighth-grader at Brookfield Academy in Brookfield, WI, was named America's Top Young Scientist for his idea for a wound closure system to protect deep cuts, as well as for his performance in a live science competition among YSC finalists.

The nationwide competition began with more than 10,000 entrants in grades 5 through 8 who, under the supervision of a teacher or adult advisor, took on the challenge to tackle a social or security issue facing the country using science. Participants entered one- to two-minute videos, made using basic home electronics devices (e.g., cell phones), on one of four given topics: preventing the spread of germs/diseases; food safety; sun protection; or wind-resistant structures. A panel of judges, experts in the sciences, social activism, and science education, evaluated all entered videos on the basis of creativity, persuasiveness, classroom suitability, and overall presentation (production quality is not a consideration).

"I've always loved to compete, so I had been looking online for various competitions in writing and science. Eventually I stumbled upon the Young Scientist Challenge," said McCarty. He entered in the wind-resistant structures category, with a video on a model wind tunnel he designed and built out of foam board. After being named a semi-finalist, he used the kit provided by 3M, which included a variety of company-made products useful in innovation, to develop his new concept in first aid.

"My innovation is a wound closure device designed specifically for deep lacerations, especially when emergency help isn't readily available," McCarty explained. "It utilizes 3M Dual Lock fasteners, which work like typical hook-and-loop fasteners but are up to five times as strong. My device allows for easy repositioning of the straps without removing the adhesive every time (which can hurt!). It also everts, or raises up, the skin, allowing for much better healing."

The YSC's first round of judging, in July, led to the selection of 51 state semifinalists (including Washington, DC), and a second round in August narrowed the field to ten. All 10 competed in New York Oct. 5 in a final "showdown," a series of in-person challenges--communicating scientific concepts, applying fundamentals to real-world situations, and demonstrating innovation in problem solving--in front of the judging panel, and McCarty emerged the winner.

As the grand prize winner, in addition to receiving $50,000 in United Sates Savings Bonds, McCarty will also travel to St. Paul, MN to work with top scientists and engineers at 3M to develop and test his wound closure system. And for an eager and scientifically curious 14-year-old, the latter prize may well be the more valuable.

"Though I am not positive of my career path, I would certainly love to incorporate math and science," McCarty said. "I have always been intrigued by NASA and the science of the cosmos, and I would love to pursue these more in the future. I also love watching MythBusters, a show [that] puts urban legends to the test in a scientific environment. I find the process of science in general to be incredibly interesting."

Second prize was awarded to Sydney Clark, a homeschooled sixth-grader from Austin, TX, whose innovation project was a science-based method to help prevent thieves from stealing PIN numbers at ATMs. Third prize went to Matthew Shimura, a seventh-grade student at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI, for his development of a protective film to prevent windows from breaking during high winds. Clark and Shimura will each receive $1,000 and a trip to the set of Discovery Channel's scientific investigation series Mythbusters.

A state-by-state map of prize winners and finalists can be found here.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.

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