Judges for the Intel Science Talent Search asked Mimi Yen hard questions, and she didn’t know the answers to any of them. But Mimi was pleased.
“It was a good kind of brutal,” Mimi, 17, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, the morning after she was awarded third place in the prestigious science competition. “The questions are geared at looking at the thought process about things I didn’t know the answers to. I came out feeling foolish.”
Still, her thinking was smart enough to persuade the judges to lift her out of a pack of 40 finalists from across the United States and award her a top spot in the national challenge. The award comes with $58,500 in scholarships toward college.
Two other high school students from New York City also made it to the finals.
The last time a city student placed in the Top 3 was in 2005, when David Lawrence Vigliarolo Bauer, a student at Hunter College High School, won the competition with a biochemical detector.
Mimi, a Stuyvesant High School senior who lives in Brooklyn, spent two years after school and on weekends researching the genetics and mating behavior of a microscopic worm. According to a news release from Intel, “Mimi believes that through research such as hers, we may better understand the genes that contribute to behavioral variations in humans.”
The finalists were bombarded with questions by the scientists who judged the competition during four sessions, 10 to 15 minutes long. Mimi and the other finalists also each made two posters for an exhibition on Sunday at the National Geographic Society buildiing, where they explained their projects to the public.
It was a learning experience every step of the way, she said.