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STEM program alumnus a finalist in Intel program

Neel Patel (second from left, middle row) and other winners of the Intel Science Talent Search met with President Obama on March 13.

Neel Patel, a Seminole State College dual enrollment-STEM Research Program alumnus, placed sixth out of 40 students at the Intel Science Talent Search.

Winners were announced March 13. Patel earned $25,000 in scholarships and was amazed to be recognized as one of the top 10 high school scientists in the country.

"It was really one of the most humbling weeks of my life," says Patel, 17. "There were so many extremely qualified students, so to be named to the top 10 was definitely shocking to me. I'm still letting it sink in."

Patel wants a career as a research scientist – and he’s well on his way, as one of only 40 students nationwide, and the only Florida student, selected as a finalist for the Intel Science Talent Search sponsored by the Society for Science & the Public.

Neel Patel

“It’s the Nobel Prize of U.S. high school science competitions,” says Dr. Suzy Behel, biological science professor and founder of the STEM Research Program at Seminole State College of Florida. Science Talent Search alumni have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, three National Medals of Science and 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships.

The Intel Science Talent Search finalists gathered in Washington, D.C., March 8-13, for a rigorous judging process and meetings with national leaders. The finalists competed for $630,000 in awards, with a top prize of $100,000. Another highlight of the Intel Science Talent Search was the opportunity to meet President Obama earlier on March 13.

"He's a very inspirational figure," says Patel, who lives in Geneva. "He talked to us about why science is important and how he's encouraging his own daughters to go into science."

Patel, an Oviedo High School senior, studied with Behel for five semesters as a dual-enrollment student at Seminole State.

“Taking that class was the difference between doing a middle-school or high-school project and a university project,” says Patel. “Dr. Behel didn’t just cover the basics; she went into statistical analysis and how to write a formal research paper.”

For four years, Patel has focused his research on sonifications, patterns of pitch, loudness and tempo that can be used to relay information typically conveyed visually. He foresees military and medical applications for his research.

“We can quantify data for pilots and soldiers in the battlefield who can’t look away from their primary visual task to see information on a screen,” he says. “Or it may be a doctor who’s performing surgery and needs to know how far a scalpel is from a tumor but can’t look at a screen in the middle of performing a delicate incision. What I’m doing would let them get the same information they’d get from a screen through their sense of hearing.”

Patel, who graduates in May, has received acceptance letters from the California Institute of Technology, Duke University and Stanford University.

The STEM Research Program is available to any Seminole State student who is pursuing a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math. Begun in 2009, it’s the first program of its kind among Florida’s state colleges.

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