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2 local teens compete in Intel Science Talent Search

Thursday - 3/7/2013, 10:15am  ET

intel finalists (Courtesy of Intel Science Talent Search)
Alexa Dantzler and Samuel Zbarsky are competing to win $100,000 in the Intel Science Talent Search. (Courtesy of Intel Science Talent Search)

Dantzler 'excited' for competition

WTOP's Del Walters reports

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Project focuses on dry-cleaning chemical

WTOP's Del Walters reports

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Del Walters, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Everybody knows the story of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The life of Mark Zuckerberg was made into a major movie.

But do you know the story of Alexa "Lexy" Dantzler of Manassas, Va.?

Come next week she could be the talk of the town. Dantzler is one of two local high school students who are among the 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. She attends Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Va.

The other local competitor is 17-year-old Samuel Zbarsky of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md.

The grand prize in the contest is $100,000, and Dantzler and Zbarsky face some pretty heady competition.

There are 38 other finalists from across the country competing. They will present their projects and research Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the National Geographic Society in D.C.

The organizers also point out:

"Over the past 71 years, Science Talent Search alumni have received some of the world's most coveted honors including seven Nobel Prizes, three National Medals of Science, 10 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, two Fields Medals, and even an Academy Award."

But if the description of their projects is any indication, either local student stands a good chance of walking away $100,000 richer.

Zbarsky submitted a math project to the science search. Here's how the Intel release described his submission:

"Suppose we want to connect points in Euclidean high-dimensional space so that each point is connected to no more than three other points. The claim is that the ratio of the total path length to the sum of distances from the starting point is at most 1.5. A 1994 proof had shown that this ratio could be no more than 1.666, and another mathematician had subsequently reduced this to 1.63. Sam's results improved on this even further, proving that it was between 1.447 and 1.561."

Zbarsky is captain of his math team and a member of the computer club. He's also fluent in Russian and has competed in various language competitions.

Dantzler is no slouch either. To get to the science fair, she helped identify what could be a known carcinogen in dry-cleaned clothes. The chemical is called perchloroethylene (PCE).

Dantzler looked at the levels of PCE in 48 area dry-cleaning establishments. She found the levels decreased depending upon how the clothes were prepared and how long they sat before being picked up.

And, like Zbarsky, Dantzler is busy outside the classroom as well. She helps translate Spanish, is a member of the Bishop O'Connell High School String Quartet and performed mission work in Haiti. While there, she helped to deliver a baby.

Other than that, they are typical high school students who could be $100,000 richer once the competition ends. The winners will be announced Tuesday, March 12.

This story has been modified to correct the locations of both students' high schools.

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