17-year-old Mary Masterman, a senior at Westmoore High School in Oklahoma City, won the Intel Science Talent Search and received a $100,000 scholarship for building an inexpensive yet accurate spectrograph that identifies the "fingerprints" of different molecules. More than 1,700 high school seniors across the nation entered the contest, which is in its 66th year. Spectrographs measure wave lengths and can be used in research such as astronomy, medicine or in industry. For example, they can be used as a sensing device to look for explosives or drugs or to help determine how old an art work is through its pigments. They can cost as much as $100,000, but Masterman's invention - made of lenses, a laser, aluminum tubing and a camera - cost less than $1,000, Intel said.
Masterman received the honor from Intel's Chairman Craig Barrett during a banquet Tuesday night in Washington. "It was a complete surprise. I wasn't expecting it, " Masterman said. The teenaged girl said she has been interested in science "ever since I was little. I can't remember ever not being interested." She credits her parents with encouraging her. She said she has not decided where she will attend college but would eventually like to become a physicist or chemist. The 40 finalists spent the last week in Washington, where they exhibited their projects at the National Institute of Science and met government officials including Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Among the former winners of the competition's top award are six Nobel Laureates, three National Medal of Science winners, 10 MacArthur Foundation Fellows and two Fields Medalists.