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3 Southern California students compete in high-stakes science contest

November 10, 2012 |  2:08 pm

Emily Tao of Placentia hopes her research on the atmospheric formation of sulfuric acid, a major component of acid rain, will influence predictions for air pollution and acid rain.

Tony Dong of Newbury Park and Brandon Kao of Placentia believe their research on the mechanism of the reaction between formic acid and ammonia in the atmosphere will shed light on how clouds are formed.

All three researchers have high hopes for their studies. And they're all still in high school.

Tao, Dong and Kao presented their research Saturday to university judges at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The three Southern California students were among 15 regional finalists in the annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

"It kind of makes me feel like I'm doing something significant with the research," said Tao, a senior at Troy High School in Fullerton. Tao said she has plans for research she wants to conduct this summer.

Dong is a senior at Newbury Park High School, and Kao is a junior at Valencia High School in Placentia. The young men studied the reaction between formic acid and ammonia in the atmosphere "theoretically, through computational techniques," Dong said. Both said they were surprised at how closely their computer-based research represented what happens in nature.

The winners of the regional events will advance to the national finals in Washington, D.C., in December. In Washington, $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including two top prizes of $100,000.

"Each year, when we hear these students' projects, it's mind-blowing," said Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation. "They really are part of a select set of students doing research at this caliber."

This year, 2,255 students nationwide registered to enter the Siemens Competition. The winners of the regional finals at Caltech will be announced Saturday evening.


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