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MAY 2005

Hunter HS Intel Winner Goes to CCNY
By Michelle Desarbo

David L.V. Bauer, a 17-year-old senior from Hunter College High School, recently won first place in the Intel Science Talent Search for his work on neurotoxins in humans. After competing against 40 other finalists nationwide through rigorous questioning by panels of judges, Bauer was announced the winner and awarded a $100,000 scholarship.

Education Update (EU): How did you come to arrive at this research topic?

David Bauer (DB): This idea came as a result of simply doing a lot of reading and thinking about different ways of using some of the materials. How could we use them? What are they being used for? Also, in the lab where I worked, there was a student who was a paramedic and had been at Ground Zero on 9/11. One of the things I found from him was that there was an issue with individual exposure. What that means is that if there were a terrorist attack, there are large machines scattered throughout New York City which would tell you that an attack had taken place, what kind of toxin it involved, and whether or not it’s in the air. And that’s very good, but what we also discovered from 9/11 was that two people standing very close to each other could get completely different amounts of exposure just because of the way the wind blows and the wind currents and so forth. So one person could get a mouthful of asbestos and the other person could be fine. If there were an attack involving a nerve gas (which is a kind of a neurotoxin), you would need to determine individual exposure very, very rapidly to know how to treat these people and which paramedics you are going to treat first, to prioritize and track things over time.

EU: How would your biosensor work?

DB: The idea behind this is that you could use something to detect neurotoxins before they get into people. You would have this molecule coded onto a little badge that you could clip onto paramedics, and they could go out into the field, come back, and use this little badge to see what they had been exposed to. Something like this in practical use is really far, far away. Something like that could entail five more Intel projects’ worth of work. It’s something to look forward to and to work on, but right now it’s just in its first steps.

EU: What was the most memorable experience you had while conducting your research?

DB: Once something happened to me that really is every scientist’s dream. There are two kinds of experiments. One is computational. There are various computer programs that will assist you in predicting how different molecules will form and how they’ll come together. I had done a series of computer modeling with the molecule I wanted to create. Part of the modeling had predicted that there would be five locations on this molecule I was working with to attach other molecules on. So this was a building process. I did an experiment and found that there actually were five spaces. So, the theoretical math and the actual real life came together. It wasn’t just some crazy theory; you could say that this could be done.

EU: What was it like to meet other young gifted scientists at the Intel competition in Washington D.C.?

DB: Getting together with other students was even better than any award. It was its own reward in and of itself. We spent a week in Washington D.C. together, all 40 finalists. And to be one of the 40 is really special because you get an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. for a week, you’re in a five-star hotel, and everything is taken care of and paid for. There is a series of rather rigorous judging sessions. You present your project at the National Academy of Sciences and do a bunch of other things. It’s a very busy schedule; it’s not a sight-seeing trip. When you’re down there, you really get to bond with these 40 people and you get to know them very well. You would think with a lot of money on the line that 40 of the brightest students in the United States would find plenty of ways to backstab each other. But that didn’t happen. People would come out of the judging sessions and would stay in the waiting room to make everyone else less anxious. It was really a very positive experience. And these people are so amazing! They’re from all different backgrounds and it was very interesting to hear what each one of them had to say. Of course, we’re still in contact with each other courtesy of email and so forth.

EU: You have chosen to enroll at CUNY in the fall. Why is CUNY your school of choice?

DB: The real question is, why not? I have spent two years there doing research. I’ve gotten to know the students and gotten beyond perhaps the stereotypical reputation. I’ve found that the people here are just as compelling and just as academically, socially, and politically interesting as the students from my school (Hunter College High School) who go on to places like Harvard, the Ivy League, smaller liberal arts schools as well. I’m going to be attending the CUNY Honors College in the fall. It’s absolutely wonderful. It’s probably one of the most fantastic ideas that they’ve come up with. There are a whole bunch of new initiatives—they’re trying to rebuild and reinvent themselves. The Honors College, by the way, is a group of about 40 students at City College and they’re also at six other CUNY campuses. You have your own set of advisors. It’s like a small school with lots of individual attention within the larger one. You have access to all these resources and different people, but at the same time, you really get the attention that you need. There are lots of perks that come with it as well in terms of the financial aspects—it’s free, you get a stipend, a laptop, a cultural pass to NYC (which means tickets on reserve to places like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center; either they’re free or discounted.) And the other thing I’ve found aside from the Honors College is that the individual professors here are so invested in their students. They really do see their own personal success, the success of the college, to be in the students themselves. By getting students who do well and succeed and can get them good publicity and go on and do very good things, that is how they’re going to make themselves better. In the sciences, my own professor is from Europe. She’s from Ecole Polytechnique—the most prestigious science school in the world. Our expression goes, “Oh, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist.” But in France (where Polytechnique is located), the expression is, “You don’t have to be a polytechnician.” She was a professor there. She came to New York, taught at Columbia, and ended up at City College. You find people like this everywhere. You have access to them all the time. This is not something you get a lot of other places.

EU: Who do you look up to in the field of science

DB: My mentor—Valeria Balogh-Nair—is really so impressive. When she became a full professor at City College in the late 80s, she was one of 12 female organic chemistry professors in the United States. The interesting thing is that I don’t have any scientists in my family. My mother is a nurse. Growing up, she was always there for me and always pushing me. It’s always interesting to see what she does. Even though she’s a nurse, she does have a rather strong scientific background too.When I first started the project, I mispronounced the name of this molecule I was working on and kept doing it.  I was explaining it to her and finally, she very quietly told me the correct way to pronounce it. And she knew all about it and was just sort of letting me talk. It’s a bit of a different experience I guess because I’ve grown up with very, very strong women, I guess.These are the people who are supporting me as I move forward.#



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