To honor talented high school scientists who will produce the innovations of tomorrow and to foster their interest in addiction research, NIDA and Scholastic Corp. cosponsored the first Addiction Science Awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest pre-college science fair, on May 11-16 in Atlanta, Georgia. Judges representing NIDA evaluated more than 50 addiction-related projects selected from the 1,500 in the fair. The winners were:
First Place: Kapil Vishveshwar Ramachandran, a 16-year-old senior from Westwood High School in Austin, Texas, earned the top award, which came with a prize of $2,500. His project was titled "GluCl-alpha Ion Channel and Diazepam Binding Genes in Alcohol Addiction." Ramachandran determined that the loss of a specific protein lessens fruit flies' tolerance to alcohol. The work provided the first link between that protein and a step in the path to addiction. In his project, Ramachandran developed a way to assess alcohol tolerance by observing flies' movement in response to light.
"The judges were particularly impressed with the winner's enthusiasm and innovative approach to exploring the neurological underpinnings of addiction," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow.
Second Place: Ethan Garrett Guinn, a 17-year-old senior from Moore High School in Moore, Oklahoma, won the second-place award and $1,500 for "Video Games: The Next Generation's Addiction." The young scientist developed a survey that asked questions about gaming behavior similar to those used to assess whether drug users are addicted. It asked, for example, whether the responder chose to play video games over spending time with family and friends or lied to others about playing. Guinn found that 69 percent of boys and 44 percent of girls showed borderline-to-severe signs of video game addiction.
Third Place: Shelby Marie Raye, a 15-year-old freshman from Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida, earned the third-place award and $1,000. Her project, "What's In and What's Out: High Schoolers' Perceptions of Coolness," identified characteristics that affect a student's image. In Raye's survey of 389 students aged 14 to 18, both boys and girls reported that participation in athletics was "cool," but boys said that being "funny" contributes most to coolness, while girls preferred "outgoing."
"Our second- and third-place winners used initiative, curiosity, and good science to identify and measure relatively unstudied influences that are affecting the lives of adolescents," says Dr. Volkow.
Scholastic and NIDA have a longstanding collaboration to provide age-appropriate educational information on the effects that drugs have on the brain, body, and behavior. For more information on the award, see NIDA's Science Fair Award for Addiction Science page.
"We were thrilled at the quantity and quality of projects that explored addiction science, which gives us great optimism about the future of this vital field," says head NIDA judge Dr. Lucinda Miner, deputy director of the Institute's Office of Science Policy and Communications.