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Woodside Intel science whiz works to improve solar power

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Yang, a Woodside native and senior at Manhattan's prestigious Hunter College High School, last week joined the ranks of 300 other gifted young scientists from across the country to become a semi-finalist for the Intel Science Award. "The biggest goal of our project is solar energy," Yang said of his winning entry that aims to create a highly stable synthetic substance to more efficiently harness the sun's energy.Yang said it could be more than a century before anyone sees a commercial application for the plant-mimicking substance that he and fellow organic chemists are working to develop. But it could be worth the wait."Materials used today (to harness and transmit solar energy) have an efficiency around 27 percent like solar panels," Yang said. "Plants almost have 100 percent conversion. They don't waste that much in the form of heat."This branch of research, it would solve a lot of our energy problems."As a semi-finalist, Yang earned a $1,000 college scholarship, a $1,000 donation for his school and a chance to become one of 40 finalists who will eventually travel to Washington to compete for the top prize: a $100,000 college scholarship.Fellow Woodsider, Yuetian Xu, also earned herself a semi-finalist ranking in the competition that has been likened to a "junior Nobel Prize." Xu, a 17-year-old student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan whose work focused on handwriting recognition, could not be reached for comment.So far, Yang has managed to develop a small compound related to the one for which he and his fellow researchers were looking. If all goes according to plan, researchers in the field will eventually develop a version of the substance known as a porhyrin that can be linked together to form a sheet-like array. a past member of his school's Lincoln-Douglas debate team, a reporter and editor at the school newspaper and a devout Christian, Yang's interests encompass far more than science. Yang, whose mother is an educator and whose father is a retired health-care worker, actively participates in the youth group at the Christian Testimony Church in Elmhurst. Drawing on the wisdom of Niels Bohr, one of the father's of modern atomic science, Yang said he sees no disconnect between science and religion."Science isn't about discovering some fundamental truth; it's about what as scientists we can say to describe nature and natural phenomena," Yang said. "Science can sometimes inform what we understand about nature and the world and physical phenomena, but you know when it comes down to it, faith is always more important to me - it shapes and dictates what I think."The 40 finalists in the Intel Science competition were scheduled to be announced Wednesday after press time.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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