Global semiconductor giant Intel will no longer sponsor its famed math and science competition for high school students.
The Science Talent Search, which has been sponsored by Intel since 1998, rewards 40 finalists with a trip to Washington to meet influential scientists and leaders.
It’s open to any student in their last year of secondary school in the US or any of its territories who has done independent original research. The 40 finalists travel to Washington DC, and have their work judged by a panel. About 1,800 students apply for the prize every year, according to edSurge.
In 2015, nine finalists won top awards ranging from $35,000 to $150,000. Three first prizes were given because of the variety in quality research: one student developed an algorithm to study mutations in the human genome, another studied how phonons (the basic unit of sound) interact with electrons, and the third winner advanced work in a branch of mathematics called the Ramsey Theory, which deals with complex system structure.
Past competitors include eight Nobel Prize winners, CEOs, professors, and award-winning scientists, in addition to Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil, best-selling science writer Brian Greene, and Akami CEO Thomas Leighton.
The competition began in 1942 as an essay contest, with the topic “How science can help win the war,” according to Quentin Hardy of the New York Times. The “Top Boy” later developed an artificial kidney, and “Top Girl” became an ophthalmologist. The gender divide was abolished in 1949, and from that year on a single winner was named.
Mary Sue Coleman is a former president of the University of Michigan and member of the board of the Society for Science and the Public, who judges the contest. She was a finalist in 1961 for her research on drug-resistant bacteria. In her experience, the contest is an important gauge of America’s scientific priorities. She said:
When I was a finalist in 1961, it was the Sputnik generation, when America was competing with Russia to get into space. It was a national obsession. People in school cheered us on like we were star athletes. I got letters from the heads of corporations.
The reasons for Intel’s withdrawal are unclear, since the prestigious contest only costs $6 million (.01% of Intel’s $55.6 billion revenue), writes Paul Lilly of Hot Hardware.
Intel took over from Westinghouse in a “passing of the torch” from an industrial-age leader to a pioneer in the Information Age.
Intel also benefited from the contest by possibly having a hand in the education of their future star employees. Winner Noah Golowich, who is now a freshman at Harvard, said:
They showed us stuff they were doing with wearable technologies and machine learning. I didn’t know much about all the things Intel does before I went to Washington.
Craig Barrett, a former Intel chief executive, is also a member of the board for the Society of Science and the Public in addition to running a chain of charter schools called BASIS. He said he was “surprised and a little disappointed” in Intel’s decision, because “it’s such a premier event in terms of young people and technology.”
Maya Ajmera, president of the Society for Science and the Public, said that the organization will be looking for a new corporate sponsor immediately. She said:
They have been an excellent partner for almost 20 years, but their corporate priorities have changed. We pride ourselves on recognizing thousands of leaders in science and technology and hope to keep doing so.
A possible candidate for a new sponsor is Larry Page, a Michigan graduate and co-founder and chief executive of Google.
Intel will continue to fund the contest through 2017.