WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) - Neil Davey, Katie Barufka and Sam Pritt have problem-solving down to a science. The high schoolers are regional winners of the Siemens Foundation Science Award. They each received a $3,000 scholarship for their regional win. Now, they move on to the national finals, with a top prize of $100,000 in scholarship money.
Individual winner Sam Pritt developed computer software that recognizes where a picture was taken, a process called geolocation. The program could be useful in everything from counter-terrorism to disaster relief. He says, "You don't need the whole horizon, just bits and pieces", noting that the program has accurately pinpointed locations from photos taken indoors, too. The program also recognizes which direction the camera was pointing when a photograph is taken.
Team winners Neil Davey and Katie Barufka were interns at the National Institute of Health when they developed a potential vaccine for a disease called cutaneous Leishmaniasis. The dangerous parasite causes serious damage to people's skin in many parts of the world, such as the Middle East and South America. The student team "tested (the vaccine) on mice, and they didn't have the lesions of the cutaneous Leishmaniasis. But it was still alive, so the body could build immunity".
Neil, a Junior at Montgomery Blair High School, was inspired when he learned about Leishmaniasis while traveling to India, a trip he makes every summer. Katie joined Neil's research project because it hits close to home for her, too. The Senior at Langley High School says, "When I found out they were doing research on diseases caused by parasites, (since) my mom actually has Lyme disease, that was a motivating factor".
Only 6 individual and 6 team regional finalists advance to the national finals, which will be held at George Washington University in December. They all have their eyes on the prize, but also on the future of their amazing accomplishments.
Katie and Neil hope their vaccine goes to human trial, and eventually to market as a viable vaccine for Leishmaniasis. Meanwhile, Sam wants to expand the horizons of his software program. He is "looking into an extension of (his) program using shorelines as opposed to horizons", which will give the software more versatility.