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Pursuing excellence in science


Stephen M. McCarthy and Anqi Fu, both River Hill High School seniors, share a passion for science.

Both have parents who have encouraged the love of the subject through their careers and by providing access to good schools and extracurricular activities. And simply by cheering them on in their pursuit of excellence in science.

Anqi and Stephen were recently named semifinalists in the Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology - known as the nation's most prestigious high school science competition.

"I like understanding how things work," Stephen said.

Added Anqi, "I've grown up around science. My father got his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering, and my mother is a civil engineer."

Stephen and Anqi were among more than 300 semifinalists named in the science competition.

About 1,200 students across the country entered the competition. Team prizes were also awarded. "The standards for this competition are high, and the judging is quite rigorous," said Marie Gentile, spokeswoman for the Siemens Foundation in Iselin, N.J.

The top individual prize - a $100,000 scholarship - went to Aaron Goldin of Encinitas, Calif. for inventing the Gyro-Gen, a gyroscope that converts ocean wave energy into electricity.

Stephen's work centered on developing an algorithm to improve the detection of microcalcifications in mammographic images.

"The best type of detection is done by an expert mammographer," said Stephen, whose work was overseen by mentors at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory near Laurel, where he is interning. "This would allow the computer to see the images better. ... It's a time-saving device," he said.

Anqi hopes one day to see research she completed result in magnetic refrigerators that are more efficient than the ones now on the market.

"The magnetic refrigerators would be 60 percent efficient versus 40 percent for the vapor compression," she said.

Her work was overseen by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, where she is an intern.

Both students recall being introduced to the fields of math, science and technology as youngsters.

"When I was 7, my parents bought me an IBM computer, and I created computer games on it," Stephen said.

His father, who has a doctorate in psychology, said it is gratifying to see his son pursue science.

"All parents want to see their children pursue something they truly love," Dan McCarthy said.

Stephen said he plans to pursue a doctorate in computer science and work as a researcher.

"I liked to do research, and I like the independence," he said.

On his short-term goal list: getting into college. His top three choices are Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley.

He should have no trouble gaining entrance, based on his resume.

Stephen has a weighted grade point average of 4.7 on a 4.0 scale. This takes into account honors, advanced placement and gifted classes that carry extra points because of their difficulty. His combined SAT score is 1460.

Anqi recalls learning about science at an early age because of her engineer parents.

She said taking chemistry and physics in middle school and high school solidified her desire to pursue a career in science.

"I enjoy the labs," she said.

Her father, Richard Fu, said he is proud of his daughter.

"If she feels [strongly] about something, she's very devoted to it," he said, adding that his daughter is well-rounded. "She's a beautiful poet."

Anqi said she would like to become a research scientist and attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology after she graduates from high school.

She, too, should be a shoo-in at her college of choice. She has a 4.0 grade point average and combined SAT score of 1530.

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