Sam Zbarsky
Samuel Zbarsky

Earlier this week, the Intel Science Talent Search named its tip-top winner and other numerous brainiac finalists, 40 high school kids in all receiving high honors. The annual science-and-math-contest results never fail to inspire us — these young students from around the country are creating projects that promise a better future for the planet and everyone on it — but they also make us feel dumb and science/math-deficient in comparison. Read about the brilliant top winner’s project after the jump. And also the amazing kid from Rockville, Samuel Zbarsky, who won $25,000. You might feel bad about yourself for a minute, but you’ll feel way better about your future. (Last year, Crownsville, Md., 15-year-old Jack Andraka won the grand prize for inventing a new way to detect pancreatic cancer.)

Sara Volz, 17, of Colorado Spring, Colorado — who upped the oil content of algae to create an economical source of biofuel — received the top prize of $100,000.

In case you’re like me and don’t understand how algae behaves, “[It] produces oil that can be converted into a sustainable, renewable fuel; however, the fuel can be costly. Sara used artificial selection to establish populations of algae cells with high oil content, which are essential for an economically feasible biofuel. Sara, who built a home lab under her loft bed, sleeps on the same light cycle as her algae,” according to press materials.

See, she’s obviously, clearly, one with science!

“Society for Science & the Public is proud to join Intel in congratulating Sara Volz for her scientific accomplishments,” said Elizabeth Marincola, president of aforementioned Society for Science & the Public, the same nonprofit that launched the award program in 1942. “Sara’s work demonstrates how a young person who is fascinated by science, which she has been since a kindergarten science fair, can work with few sophisticated resources and have real impact on society. Sara’s research on a novel method to help make algae biofuel economically feasible has the potential to make a serious impact on a critical global challenge. Sara and the rest of the Intel Science Talent Search 2013 finalists serve as an inspiration for young researchers who are drawn to science. Their hard work and innovation will create solutions to the problems of tomorrow.”

Jonah Kallenbach, 17, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, earned second-place and $75,000 for his bioinformatics study that “breaks new ground in predicting protein binding for drug therapy,” according to press materials. His research may create better treatment options for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and tuberculosis.”

Adam Bowman, 17, of Brentwood, Tennessee, took home third-place and $50,000 for the successful design and construction of “a compact and inexpensive, low-energy, pulsed plasma device.” Typical plasma sources are enormous and pricy. “Using his inexpensive technology, Adam believes plasma research can now be conducted in small-scale operations and even high school labs.”

And now for the local scoop. (Cue celebratory trumpet.) Samuel Zbarsky of Rockville, Maryland, received seventh-place and a $25,000 award “for his math research that could improve the efficiency of 3-D computer networks.” Way to go Samuel! Score one gold star for Maryland. At Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, you are captain of the math team and a member of the computer club, science bowl, and the It’s Academic team. Fluent in Russian, you’ve won gobs of honors at numerous academic competitions, including the International Linguistics Olympiad, USA Math Olympiad, USA Physics Olympiad and the Harvard-MIT math tournament. You make me feel smarter by proximity, man.

“The Intel Science Talent Search is an opportunity to reshape the dialogue around our nation’s youth,” said Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation, which became the program sponsor 15 years ago. “We believe it’s crucial to U.S. innovation to bring greater attention to math and science achievement, encourage more youth to embrace these fields, and demonstrate the impact these subjects have on our country’s future success.”

The Intel Foundation awarded over one million dollars for the Intel Science Talent Search 2013. Finalists this year come from 20 states. 1712 high schoolers entered; 300 were named semifinalists in January. Forty finalists were invited to Washington, D.C., this week to vie for the top 10 awards. Past winners, over the last 72 years, have gone on to score seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, five National Medals of Science, 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and even an Academy Award for Best Actress (Natalie Portman). How can I leave you with that last detail? And yet I must say goodbye. Wait! You look very smart in those glasses.