Glamorous competitions spur American students to excel in lab work by offering big-money prizes and high-profile acclaim
In March, the 53rd annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search brought 40 high school students to Washington, D.C.--all of them finalists in the venerable annual competition. The purpose of the young people's visit was twofold: to showcase all of their research achievements and to select 10 of the finalists as winners of this year's event.

Leading the elite group was Forrest Anderson of Helena High School in Helena, Mont., the grand-prize winner. Anderson, whose project demonstrated a method for converting mixed plastic waste into liquid petroleum products, says he was surprised to be chosen as the best of the best. "This is the most intelligent group of students I've ever been with in my life," he says. Although he can't be sure why he was singled out, he says he suspects that the timely...

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