Two Massachusetts teenagers have been named finalists in a national science fair and will be flown to Washington, D.C., later this month to vie for prize money and meet other like-minded contestants.
Floyd Greenwood, 13, of Andover and Alden Giedraitis, 15, of Byfield are two of 30 finalists in the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS competition, a program run through the Society for Science and the Public . The 30 finalists were selected from 2,054 applicants who had been nominated for their work at society-affiliated regional science fairs.
Greenwood and Giedraitis both earned honors at the 2014 state science fair. Greenwood presented a selectively bred algae project, while Giedraitis offered a project on autonomous navigation in robots.
The MASTERS competition, which stands for Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars, was launched in 2010 as a premier competition for the top 10 percent of the nation’s sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders as a partnership between the society and the Broadcom Foundation.
This year’s finalists will present their research, take in sites in the city, and learn how to program the Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of a credit card. They will also compete in team-oriented science, technology, engineering, and math challenges for more than $75,000 in awards.
“It feels . . . like I never thought I’d get this far,” Greenwood said in a phone interview. “I think it’s a great opportunity for me to meet new people from all over the country. I get to present my project to the public.”
Greenwood started working with algae about two years ago, when he managed to breed the microorganisms in a way that raised their tolerance for bleach. Greenwood then turned his attention to selectively breeding algae to be more nutritious to fish.
Increasing the amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the algae helps the fish that eat them become healthier for humans, he explained.
“He’s always been a curious kid,” said Greenwood’s father, also named Floyd. “Obviously, we’re delighted. . . . He was willing to stick it out, but it was anything but smooth sailing.”
Giedraitis’s father, Todd, had a similar sentiment, noting that his son has been obsessed with robots since he was 3 years old. “We often joke about it,” Todd Giedraitis said. “We say his first word wasn’t Mom or Dad; it was robot.”
Using an iRobot Create system as a base — a nonvacuuming, customizable version of the self-maneuvering Roomba — along with a laptop, software, and a Microsoft Kinect video game console, Giedraitis created a robot that can navigate a room and detect changes as obstacles are added and taken away, avoiding them on its own power. His work was awarded a first-place prize at the state science fair.
“On the top of my list was, ‘I don’t want to do something simple, I want to challenge myself,’ ” Giedraitis said of his project, for which he recorded accuracy about 87 percent of the time. “Even though 87 percent isn’t 100 . . . it’s definitely something to work on. As far as I’m concerned, technology will never be the same. . . . And quite frankly, you can’t improve if there isn’t anything to improve on.”
The robot can also follow a human around, understand voice commands, and store data it has previously collected. “It’s kind of like a mobile brain,” Giedraitis said.
According to his father, Giedraitis’s “number-one goal” is to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Both teens will fly to Washington later this month for the MASTERS conference from Oct. 24 to Oct. 28 to join the 28 other finalists, 12 girls and 16 boys representing 12 other states. Each of the finalists’ schools — Triton Regional Middle School for Giedraitis and West Middle School for Greenwood — received $1,000 in recognition of the students’ achievement.
“I feel extremely satisfied, and when I get there, I won’t worry about getting an award, because I’ve gotten this far,” said Greenwood.Kiera Blessing can be reached at email@example.com.