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Saturday, February 19, 2011

By Alexandra Hamilton
Correspondent, Gainesville Sun

When most people think of a scientist, a bright-eyed 17-year-old who is president of the Writer's Club at her high school and has hobbies such as photography and literature probably isn't the first image that comes to mind.

But Bhiravi Rathinasabapathi, a senior in Eastside High School's International Baccalaureate program, is in fact a young scientist with a multitude of interests, and she's recently gained some credentials to prove it.

Rathinasabapathi was named one of 300 semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, a national competition sponsored by the Intel Corporation since 1998 that encourages high school students to pursue independent research in science, math, engineering and medicine. The Society for Science and the Public has coordinated the competition since 1942, and Intel recently agreed to continue its support through 2016.

"We believe that fostering math and science is imperative for America's future success," said Gail Dundas, a spokeswoman for Intel. "We are a company based on innovation, and we believe that math and science is a basis for that innovation."

Rathinasabapathi was selected based on a research project she's been conducting that involves finding ways to fortify food crops with iron to boost their nutritional value. Rathinasabapathi said she became interested in the topic when she noticed during her visits to India, where her family is from, that people living there had difficulty accessing nutritious foods.

"I was looking for something that I could do that was related to nutrition, and this was a good opportunity," Rathinasabapathi said.

She said her interests in plant biology and plant genetics stems from the enthusiasm for the fields shown by her father, Dr. Bala Rathinasabapathi, an associate professor in the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida.

Rathinasabapathi has been involved in science fair competitions since the fourth grade and became interested in entering the Talent Search while researching science competitions online.

In addition to the Writer's Club, Rathinasabapathi is involved in a club she started at Eastside called Room to Read, which works to provide books for libraries serving underprivileged children in developing countries. She is not sure which college she will attend after high school, but she wants to work primarily in the fields of biology and technology in the future, she said.

Eastside Principal Jeff Charbonnet said he was thrilled — but not surprised — when he heard Rathinasabapathi was a semifinalist.

"We are surrounded by lots of talented students," Charbonnet said. "We have the best and the brightest."

Rathinasabapathi will receive a $1,000 award, and Eastside will also receive $1,000 to support its science, math and engineering programs.

Ten students from Florida were named Intel semifinalists this year out of nearly 1,800 entrants representing 500 high schools across the country. Though Rathinasabapathi was not selected as a finalist, two students from Florida were of the 40 chosen. They will compete for the top award and $100,000 during the final judging process, to be held in Washington, D.C., in March.

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