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Smart (young) people: Intel Science Talent Search picks top projects

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The Intel Science Talent Search is known as one of the country's most prestigious science research competitions for high school students. Last week, Intel announced the 40 projects competing for this year's top prize.

The Intel Science Talent Search is known as one of the country's most prestigious research competitions for high school students. Its winners and finalists have gone on to earn the Nobel Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship and other accolades.

Last week, Intel announced the 40 projects competing for this year's top prize -- a $100,000 scholarship. Here's a look at a few of the finalists.

Indoor Air Pollution: A Comparison of Fine Particulate Matter Emissions from Paraffin and Soy Candles

Noticing how her mother's asthma reacted to candles, Otana Agape Jakpor, 16, set about to determine just how much paraffin and soy candles contribute to indoor air pollution. At her California home, Jakpor used an aerosol monitor to measure exposure levels of breathable particles produced by the candles. The result? One paraffin wax candle emitted particles at levels exceeding outdoor air quality standards. The soy candles produced concentrations 50 times less.

Relationships between Oncologist Gender, Participatory Decision Making, Anxiety and Breast Cancer Cure

Kevin Young Xu, 18, of New York, studied more than 100 patient surveys for clues regarding lack of standard care for breast cancer -- defined as radiotherapy or chemotherapy after lumpectomy -- among inner city patients. According to his results, patients with a female oncologist were more likely to receive standard care and patients who made decisions with their doctors had less anxiety than those who did not.

Traveling the Interplanetary Superhighway: An Autonomous Spacecraft Navigation System

According to the Interplanetary Superhighway concept, gravity and movement of planets create a network of low-energy orbits, which allow for more efficient space travel. To expand on that research, Erika Alden DeBenedictis, 18, of New Mexico, created a software navigation system that would let spacecraft exploit those opportunities. Using her algorithm, spacecraft could adjust flight path during travel to take energy-minimizing routes.

Do You 'ear Wha' I 'ear?: Lowering Voice Frequencies in Real Time to Revolutionize Hearing Assistance Technology

Faced with his own hearing loss, Nicholas Mycroft Christensen, invented a device -- made up of a microphone, circuit board, microprocessor and headphones -- that he says can outperform traditional hearing aids. Using the EarMeNow device and an algorithm, he can shift sounds to lower frequencies. Christensen, 18, worked at his Alabama home for two years on the project, testing the device on about 100 volunteers. Those with documented hearing loss had improved word recognition of 25 percent or better.

Eager to meet the bright young minds behind these and other projects? The finalists will present their research to the public on March 14 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The competition winners will be announced on March 16.

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Christina Hernandez Sherwood

Contributing Writer

Contributing Writer Christina Hernandez Sherwood has written for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and Columbia Journalism Review. She holds degrees from the University of Delaware and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure