The Intel Corporation has announced that it is ending its decades long sponsorship of the national high school science competition that bore its name -- the Intel Science Talent Search. I take this personally, for a reason I shall explain. In 1942, during the Second World War, the Westinghouse Corporation, then a corporate leader in science and technology, decided to encourage America's high school seniors to go into science as a career by holding an annual national competition. Interested seniors would undertake original research projects under the guidance of their science teachers while also studying as much science as they could get under their belts. They would all take an examination to measure their science literacy and would submit reports of their research. The whole shebang would be called the Westinghouse Science Talent Search [later taken over by Intel.] Several hundred seniors would be awarded Honorable Mention in the competition on the basis of their performance on the test, and the forty with the most promising projects would be invited to Washington, D. C. for a week-long celebration and round of interviews by distinguished scientists. The top girl and top boy would be selected by a panel of judges [they talked that way back then], and each of them would receive a $2400 prize -- enough to pay four years of college tuition at a top school!
At Forest Hills High School in Queens, N.Y., a hot-shot Biology teacher named Dr. Paul Brandwein took note of this development and decided to put the new high school on the map by training up students to compete. In 1944, a fourteen year old girl started at FHHS whose father, also a high school Biology teacher, had been Brandwein's Chair of department before Brandwein came to Forest Hills. Brandwein spotted her when she signed up for freshman Biology and took her under his wing. Four years later, in a stunning coup de theatre, Brandwein placed four FHHS seniors in that elite group of forty Westinghouse winners. One of the four went on to win top honors as the number one girl that year.
That young woman [as I may now perhaps be permitted to refer to her] was my big sister, Barbara Wolff. Her project was a study of phenocopies in drosophila melanogaster -- fruit flies.
As you can well imagine, it was a very big deal. Bobs [as she was known in the family] was in all the papers, and even received a marriage proposal by mail from a super-impressed reader. She went on to graduate summa cum laude from Swarthmore College and to earn a doctorate in Biology from Harvard.
By the time Intel called it quits, the prizes had soared, and the research projects, as you might imagine, would have been beyond the reach of the Nobel Prize winners back in the forties when the competition began. Over the years Intel has received vast amounts of good press for its sponsorship, as did Westinghouse before it. I cannot imagine what possessed the corporate managers to bow out now, but I hope some other tech company picks up the ball.
You might wonder how Barbara's little brother made out when his turn came two years later. I got an Honorable Mention. I was broken-hearted, but Susie was very supportive.