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Biochemist bags top Google prize

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Winners of the Google Science Fair's top prizes include, from left, Lauren Hodge in the 13-14 age category; Shree Bose in the 17-18 age category and Grand Prize competition; and Naomi Shah in the 15-16 age category.

Shree Bose, an aspiring young scientist from Fort Worth, Texas, won the top prize in the Google Science Fair for her project on ovarian cancer's resistance to cisplatin, a common chemotherapy drug.

Bose's stash of geeky goodies includes $50,000 in scholarship money, a ticket for a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, a chance to visit one of four big science institutions ... and a custom-made set of blocks from Lego, one of the sponsors of the contest.


Shree Bose with Vint Cerf, Google's vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist.

Lauren Hodge and Naomi Shah were also winners in the judges' eyes. Hodge won in the 13- to 14-year-old category for her project on the effects of marinades on carcinogens in grilled chicken. Shah looked into the effect of air pollution on asthma — research that won her the top prize in the 15- to 16-year-old category. Shree Bose was the winner in the 17- to 18-year-old category as well as the winner of the Google Grand Prize. 

All three winners were given trophies made of Lego blocks. 

Google announced the science-fair competition in January and was flooded with 7,500 project entries from more than 10,000 participants in 90 countries. Judges whittled this list down to 15 finalists in the three age groups. 

The winners were selected by a cast of research bigwigs, including the director general of CERN, the editor-in-chief of Scientific American, National Geographic explorers, science filmmakers, and Google's own director of research, Peter Norvig. 

The teens who made the list of finalists investigated problems we already have, and some even built solutions. Who wouldn't want a safer sailboat or a safer herbicide? 

The finalists in the 13- to 14-year-old age group are: 

  • Michelle Guo - Alzheimer's disease
  • Anand Srinivasan - prosthetics technology
  • Lauren Hodge - carcinogens in marinades 
  • Daniel Arnold - railroad switch designs to prevent derailments 
  • Luke Taylor - "Programming in Pure English" 

The 15- to 16-year-olds stepped it up a notch:

  • Dora Chen - facial recognition for dementia patients 
  • Naomi Shah - air pollution and asthma
  • Harine Ravichandran - power lines and efficient electricity transmission 
  • Gavin Ovsak - submersible water turbines
  • Skanda Koppula - mapping the ocean floor

The 17- to 18-year-olds that made the finals were: 

  • Shree Bose - ovarian cancer and drug resistance
  • Christopher Neilson - a better GPS using stereoscopic cameras
  • Vighnesh Leonard Shiv - music algorithms 
  • Shaun Lim Hsein Yang - UV light as a natural herbicide
  • Matthew Morris - improved keel design for safer sailboats 

After a weekend of visiting and touring the Google HQ in Mountain View, Calif., the 15 finalists presented their projects to the judging panel before the awards ceremony.

The prize winners were announced at a gala event at Google's headquarters, presided over by Mariette DiChristina, the editor-in-chief of Scientific American. There were other speakers, too: Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who joked that he wanted to hire all 15 finalists; and inventor Dean Kamen, whose advice to the young scientists included the Google motto: "Don't be evil." 

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Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and technology at msnbc.com. Find her on Twitter, and join our conversation on the Cosmic Log Facebook page.