Thursday, December 6, 2007

For the first time in history, the Siemens Competition, formerly the Siemens-Westinghouse Competition, was won by two females. The competition, which along with the Intel Competition are one of the two most prestigious competitions for high school science research in the United States. The Siemens Competition has two competitions, one for individual research and the other for team research. For the first time in history both the individual and team awards were won by women.

Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff, students at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in Plainview, New York won the team section of the competition for their work developing a drug that blocks reproduction of tuberculosis bacteria. Meanwhile, Isha Himani Jain from Freedom High School in Pennsylvania won the individual competition for work involving the bone growth in Zebra fish. Schlossberger and Marinoff will split a $100,000 prize and Himani Jain will also receive a $100,000 prize. Various other students will also receive smaller awards. Many of the other higher-level awards also went to women this year.

The success of the young ladies was of particular note because historically women have been underrepresented in math and science. The lack of representation has been a matter of heavy political dispute and figured into the departure of Larry Summers as president of Harvard after he speculated that the lack of representation might be due to innate biological differences. The proportion of scientists who are female has been steadily increasing over the last 50 years. According to James Whaley, the president of the Siemens Foundation, there has been a steady increase in the proportion of students entering the competition who are female and this year 48% of the students entering were female. Many commentators have called the results a sign that the gap between males and females in the sciences is closing or has closed. However, other commentators have said that females will only have reached equality with males in science was when triumphs such as this one are so routine as to not merit headlines.

The Siemens-Westinghouse Competition, now known as the Siemens Competition, was founded in 1998 after Siemens acquired Westinghouse but failed to acquire the rights to the Westinghouse competition which instead went to Intel and was renamed the Intel Science Talent Search.