Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mary Masterman: Intel Science Talent Search Winner

Mary Masterman, a senior at Westmoore High School in Oklahoma City, has won this year's Intel Science Talent Search for building her own spectrograph:

Mary machined her own parts, and aligned her own optics. Using lenses from a camera and a microscope as well as a laser for her light source, Mary was able to separate the individual photons scattered by the tested molecules, similar to the effects a prism has on light, and record their wavelengths.

She found she could attain fairly accurate wavelength measurements compared to published readings for household solvents and other objects despite using an inexpensive laser. The cost for building her spectrograph was only $300; quite an accomplishment compared to the $20,000 - $100,000 cost for commercial units.
Mary spoke to the New York Times about her project:

“The most challenging part was trying to get it to work,” said Mary, who said she hoped to attend Stanford or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I had to keep coming up with creative ways to adjust or change something,” she said. “It took three months to build and another three months before it actually functioned properly.”

Mary said she chose to build a spectrograph because of its many applications in forensics, medicine and artwork analysis.

Mary has been working on spectroscopy for several years. In 2003-2004 she and two friends - Sarah Howell and Mimi Nguyen - built (and used) an astronomical spectrograph which was presented at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in San Diego. In 2006 she was awarded the National Young Astronomer's Award. More recently she turned from the very large, to the very small, by building a Raman spectroscopy system, used by chemists to identify molecules. That work was also presented to the American Astronomical Society.

Masterman also has her own web site, MarySpectra, that has a nice introduction to spectroscopy, as well as information about her spectrography projects and enough information so that you can build your own spectrograph. She's asking for comments and/or constructive criticism in her guestbook, so stop by and leave her a message!

Six of this year's top ten Intel Science Talent Search contestants this year were girls:
  • First Place: Mary Masterman
  • Fourth Place: Catherine Schlingheyde, for research on microRNA repression
  • Fifth Place: Rebecca Kaufman, for observation of "effects of male hormones in a model of schizophrenia"
  • Seventh Place: Megan Blewett, for "analysis of a protein that may be implicated in multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis"
  • Ninth Place: Meredith MacGregor, for study of the "fluid dynamics of the "Brazil Nut Effect," in which shaken particles separate by size with the largest on top"
  • Tenth Place: Emma Call, for "fabrication of 3-D microcubes, which have potential use as novel drug-delivery devices."
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