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George School Student Named Intel Science Talent Search Finalist for Alternative Energy Research

Thursday, January 31, 2008  
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George School senior Kenny Kao has been named one of forty finalists nationwide in the 67th Annual Intel Science Talent Search, known as the nation's oldest and most prestigious science competition. Kenny was previously one of 300 semifinalists selected on the basis of their outstanding research from among the competition's 1,602 entrants.
 
"This is a magnificent achievement," stated Head of School Nancy Starmer. "We are extremely proud of Kenny. Given George School's commitment to environmental sustainability, I think it is particularly exciting that Kenny has received this national recognition for research concerning an alternative energy source."
 
Director of Studies Scott Spence said, "This is truly an extraordinary accomplishment. The Science Talent Search is often viewed as a 'junior Nobel Prize.'"
 
Kenny entered the competition with research entitled "Nanoparticle Enhancement of PEM Fuel Cell Power Output," which he conducted as a fellow at Stony Brook University's Simons Summer Research Fellowship Program in the summer of 2007. PEM fuel cells, an emerging technology, are considered to have great potential as a clean, efficient future energy source. Also known as polymer electrolyte membrane or proton exchange membrane fuel cells, they have the potential to be used in passenger vehicles. PEM fuel cells use hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce electricity.
 
Kenny explained, "The current problem is that these types of fuel cells have a low power output relative to the cost. It is ten to twenty times more costly than if you were to generate energy from natural gas. Basically, my job was to improve the efficiency." His research suggests a way in which the power output of PEM fuel cells can be increased by over five hundred percent.
 
"Kenny is well deserving of this honor," said George School teacher Chris Odom, who currently instructs Kenny in AP Physics as well as Computer Programming and Robotics. "He is tenacious. That's the best way to describe him. He is relentless in a very positive way." Chris continued, "Like all great experiments, Kenny's is very easy to understand. The results of his research are just as clear as they could possibly be. Thanks to research such as Kenny's, PEM fuel cells have recently improved to the point where they are considered a promising source of power for the automobiles, robots, and space missions of the future."
 
Contest entrants represented 504 high schools in 45 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. As a finalist, Kenny will receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington DC for a week-long event in March. In addition, the Intel Foundation will provide at least $5,000 and a new laptop for each finalist.
 

At the event in March, finalists will meet noted scientists and national leaders. They also will display their research at the National Academy of Sciences. From among the finalists, ten top winners will be selected through an intensive judging process and announced at a black-tie gala on March 11, 2008.