Thomas Colburn, a senior at Oak Ridge High School, has been named a finalist in an Intel science competition after a two-year project conducted with help from an Oak Ridge National Laboratory mentor. Colburn is one of only 40 U.S. high school seniors to be chosen as a finalist and the only one from Tennessee.
He’s also the first finalist from ORHS in the competition, the Intel Science Talent Search, which is described as the nation’s oldest and most prestigious pre-college science and math competition.
Colburn’s two-year project is titled “Enhanced Decomposition of Plastic Waste through Photocatalysis.” It was mentored by Todd Toops from the Fuels, Engines, and Emissions Research Center at ORNL.
The 40 finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., from March 10-16 to compete for more than $1 million in awards provided by the Intel Foundation, including three first-place Medal of Distinction awards of $150,000 each that will be presented to students who show exceptional scientific potential in three areas: basic research, global good, and innovation, a press release said.
Also, three second-place awards of $75,000, and three third-place awards of $35,000 will be presented. Finalists receive at least $7,500 for being selected as part of this prestigious group.
In a press release, Oak Ridge Schools said Colburn will present a poster highlighting his research at the National Geographic Society. He will face a stringent judging process in the competition to be one of the nine students to win one of the scholarships ranging from $35,000 to $150,000.
Colburn said he was shocked to be named an Intel STS finalist.
“The competition is highly selective, and I am honored to move on,” he said in the press release. “Being named a finalist has been one of my dreams since elementary school.”
Colburn said he felt a personal connection to his project.
“My research on plastic decomposition was inspired by being a runner and sailor,” he said in the release. “Tennessee’s beautiful trails, lakes, and streams are being polluted by plastic litter that can then affect Earth’s oceans. I wanted to solve this global problem to prevent the build-up of plastics in the environment.”
Colburn plans to study chemical engineering in college because, he said, “I want to apply my passion for research to help find efficient and effective solutions to problems facing the world.”
The Intel Science Talent Search finalists are from 38 schools in 18 states. Fifty-two percent of this year’s finalists are male, while 48 percent are female.
The 40 finalists were selected from 300 semifinalists and 1,750 entrants based on the originality and creativity of their scientific research, as well as their achievement and leadership both inside and outside the classroom.
You can see this year’s finalists here: https://student.societyforscience.org/intel-sts.
Finalist projects are distributed among 18 categories, including animal sciences, behavioral and social sciences, biochemistry, bioengineering, cellular, and molecular biology, chemistry, computer science, computational biology and bioinformatics, earth and planetary science, engineering, environmental science, genomics, materials science, mathematics, medicine and health, physics, plant science, and space science.
Tammy Carneim, a co-teacher with Jessica Williams for Math, Science, and Computer Science Thesis, noted: “While we have had students be named Intel semi-finalists in the past, Thomas is the first student from Oak Ridge High School to be named a finalist. We are very proud of him.”
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