When the winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search were announced at an awards banquet in Washington, D.C., last month, two young women had taken the top slots in the prestigious precollege competition. Elizabeth Pine, 17, of Chicago finished first for her experiments linking two different types of fungi; Xanthi Merlo, also 17, placed second for demonstrating the role a specific protein may play in prolonging blood clotting.

"After they announced the first five of the top 10, I didn't expect to win--I was truly shocked when I heard my name," Merlo said minutes after winning the $30,000 scholarship. Like Pine, Merlo, whose parents own an auto parts store in Racine, Wis., plans on getting a Ph.D. and pursuing a career in biological research.

These two teenagers, along with the eight other finalists, are members of an exclusive club. Of the 2,080 finalists in the Science Talent Search since its...

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