January 18, 2013
Two high-school students who worked on research projects in the laboratory of NYU Psychology Professor Denis Pelli are among the 300 national semifinalists for the international INTEL Science Talent Search competition for 2013.
These students, Carolyn Yao and Zofii Kaczmarek, both at New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, conducted research projects on perception in Pelli’s laboratory at NYU.
Semifinalists were selected from more than 1,700 entrants at 190 high schools in more than 30 states and one American high school overseas.
Yao explored how the number of visual features used in word identification grows with the number of possible words. She used a theoretical model to analyze the way human accuracy increases with duration. Fitting the model yielded an estimate of the number of features that her observers used to identify words. In doing so, she found a logarithmic relationship between the number of features used and the vocabulary size. Thus, vocabulary size, not word size, limits reading speed.
Kaczmarek examined why spaces between words increase reading speed. Classic Greek and Roman texts had no spaces, but all modern languages do. Using English text, she replaced the spaces with various letter and symbol combinations to test two hypotheses about the function of spaces in text. She found that spaces help because they relieve crowding between letters, rather than because they guide eye movements.
Each semifinalist receives a $1,000 award from the Intel Foundation with an additional $1,000 going to his or her school. As a semifinalist, these students will be further judged to narrow the field to 40 finalists. The finalists will be announced on January 23. The finalists are then invited to Washington, DC in March to undergo final judging, display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists, and compete for the top award of $100,000.
In 2012, four high school students working on science-fair research projects with scientists at NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology (CGSB) were among the national semifinalists for the INTEL Science Talent Search competition. These students worked on a range of projects, including plant nutrient dynamics, protein structure prediction, nematode genomics, and bacterial spore development.