Luke Andraka is both a whitewater rafting enthusiast and a budding environmentalist at the tender age of 13.
The Crownsville teen has always been interested in science, and on a rafting trip with his family last year in West Virginia, he noticed a troubling problem: the tiny macro vertebrae that live on the bottom of the stream were dying from a solution used to stave off acid-mine runoff.
The eighth-grader at Chesapeake Point Public Charter School in Hanover decided to experiment with ways to clean the pollution without adversely affecting the sea life.
His research, which proved that limestone sand most effectively raised the pH level in the stream, and therefore cleaned the pollution without harming the animals, was recently ranked in the top five among middle schools nationally.
Andraka placed fourth in the nationwide contest for his project, entitled, "The Effectiveness of Limestone Aggregates to Mitigate Acid-Mine Drainage." Last week he was awarded $500 and the honor of having an asteroid named after him.
"It was very fun," Andraka said of conducting the experiment. "I'm really passionate about helping our environment and using the least amount of resources to do the job. I've been around streams so long that I'm really connected to them, and I just love the environment a lot. I'm an outdoors fan."
The school's principal, Fatih Kandil, said he was impressed with the student's diligence.
"He came up with the idea on his own," said Kandil, who studied biology in college and helped to prepare Andraka for the competition.
Luke's mom, Jane Andraka, credited the school, the county's only charter school, for a large part of her son's success.
"We did this leap of faith and came into this new charter school and the teachers took such an interest in him," Jane Andraka said. "They come in after school and come in on Saturday and they just motivate the kids to do better than they ever thought they could. When he was feeling nervous about this competition, they gave him confidence."
The competition is sponsored by the Society for Science and the Public, which also runs the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search.
The 2008 finalists were selected from more than 75,000 students who entered local science fairs, according to SSP. More than 1,900 students submitted written entries and 300 were named semifinalists. The 30 finalists received an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington for a four-day event, which concluded Tuesday night with an awards ceremony.