Our giants of science
Lucia Mocz and her brother Philip do the state proud during an international contest
She didn't particularly enjoy science in the eighth grade, but now science fairs "have become one of my favorite hobbies," says 16-year-old Lucia Mocz.
It's a hobby that's piling up many awards in state and international science competition for the Mililani High School 10th-grader.
She won four awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair May 13-19 in Albuquerque, N.M. She was one of 20 Hawaii finalists competing against 1,512 student scientists from 45 states and 51 countries.
The isle students won six awards totaling $24,650.
Mocz won the top award of $1,000 for the second year from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. Her project: "Robot Vision: A Mutual Entropy-based Algorithm Through Scene Recognition from Image Sequences for Terrestrial and Planetary Exploration."
She won third-place awards of $350 from the IEEE Computer Society and $300 from the Association for Computing Machinery. She also won a third-place Intel ISEF Grand Award of $1,000 in computer science.
Also winning a third-place Grand Award of $1,000 for team projects were Romelynne F. Lamosao and Sheryl J. Acidera, both 17, of Waipahu High School. Their project: "Determining the Molecular Variance Relationship of Celeana Exarata Found on Gardner Pinnacle, Lanai and Hawaii."
Micah Maetani, 16, Kamehameha High School-Kapalama, Honolulu, won a $20,000 tuition scholarship to the University of New Mexico. His project was titled "Growth Inhibition of Metastatic Prostate Cancer: Effect of Methanolic Extracts from Various Nuts."
Top winners from the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair, Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and Kauai, Maui, Leeward and Windward District Fairs competed at the international fair.
They cited the camaraderie of ISEF participants, networking with premier scientists and industry leaders, meeting Nobel laureates and riding a tram to the top of Sandia Peak among highlights of the experience.
"It was extremely fun," especially talking to scientists from prestigious institutions and meeting other youths motivated about science, Mocz said.
Last year, she and her brother, Philip, one year older, took top honors at the State Science and Engineering Fair and led Hawaii's delegation to the Intel Fair, then in Indianapolis.
Philip, then a 10th-grader, won the $3,000 second-place award from the American Astronomical Society and Astronomical Society of the Pacific, plus another $1,000 from the National Science Foundation for his school's science department.
He received an all-expenses-paid trip to Seattle last January to present his project -- "Group Analysis to Pattern Discovery in Stellar and Galactic Distributions" -- at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting.
This year at the state fair, Lucia and Philip won second and third place, respectively, for senior research. Philip also won the Best in Category Award in Astronomy and received a full one-year scholarship to the University of Hawaii, a trip to Haleakala Observatory on Maui and several other prizes.
Their father, Gabor Mocz, is a University of Hawaii biochemist.
Lucia said she wasn't that interested in science when she was required to do a science fair project at Mililani Middle School in the eighth grade.
However, she placed first in the junior level at the state science fair and competed as a finalist in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C.
She began to enjoy the competition when she got to the national level, "motivating me to work even harder on another project for next year," she said.
She was a finalist last year at the Pacific Symposium for Science and Sustainability and a student delegate at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Albuquerque, N.M.
The siblings won $50,000 as second-place national team winners at the 2006-2007 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology in New York.
This was the first year she wasn't required to do a science fair project, and she competed "entirely voluntarily" at the state fair, Lucia said. She and her brother won second and third place, respectively, for senior research.
Lucia, who plays the violin and piano, said she began to enjoy math and science in her freshman year, and the 2006 international fair motivated her "to aspire to major in math in college, along with music, which I wanted to major in previously."
Meanwhile, she's thinking about a project for next year's Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair. Philip, who wants to be an astrophysicist, also plans to compete again.
Their sister, Viola, 11, in the fifth grade, also is interested in science, Lucia said.