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April 30, 2013 > Kevin Chen: Intel Finalist

Kevin Chen: Intel Finalist

By Angie Wang

In early January, Mission San Jose High School Senior Kevin Chen learned that he was one of 300 semifinalists of the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search (STS); at the end of February he was selected as one of 40 finalists. The Intel STS, hosted by the Society for Science and the Public, is one of the nation's most prestigious science competitions for high school seniors. Participants research and write papers, and the best scientists from each field are selected for the judging process. Kevin presented his research to a panel of judges in Washington, DC in March. Although he was not selected as a top ten participant, Chen's accomplishment is extraordinary.

Kevin's project, ferroelectrics, is focused on materials known for spontaneous electrical polarization properties. When voltage is applied, they can switch between positive and negative polarization. This can be used to store data (i.e. credit cards and clipper cards) and may be employed for computer RAM in the future. It has potential as a long-lasting and power-saving memory form than those used today.

Most research labs use sophisticated and costly equipment to measure the electrical characteristics of ferroelectrics, equipment inaccessible to high-school and lower-level research labs. Over the summer, Kevin worked to re-create a commercial analyzer from scratch, using low-cost and accessible parts available to most labs. Kevin assembled a successful simple circuit - complete with software - and hopes to publish his research and distribute it to other schools and universities.

Kevin says that everyone should be able to discover and explore, not just at research laboratories at universities or large tech companies, so he wanted to introduce ferroelectrics to a broader range of people. Before preparing his paper for the Intel project, Kevin worked at the SUNY Stony Brook University in New York for seven weeks. He spent three of the seven, reading relevant material to understand the underlying physics, and the remaining time assembling the project.

"The hardest part was probably putting together the circuitry," Kevin said. "The physics I could understand, the programming was fairly easy, but I'd never tackled an electronics project on this scale before. It was a pretty difficult process, since I knew absolutely nothing when I started and had to learn everything from scratch, but it was a great learning experience."

Kevin plans to study either applied engineering or computer science at a university in the fall of 2013.

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