A new national competition to judge high school students’ research projects on epidemiology—the branch of medical science that investigates the spread and control of diseases—took place in Washington last week.
The Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition wrapped up its first year by awarding $50,000 college scholarships to two high school students from a group of 60 finalists, juniors and seniors who had won regional and state competitions involving nearly 600 entries nationwide.
All told, 123 students won a total of nearly $500,000 in scholarships from the first year of the competition, which is run by the New York City-based College Board and is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, of Princeton, N.J.
The top two projects were an analysis of policies in response to the use of smallpox as a terrorist weapon, and a study of teenagers’ motivations for using indoor tanning booths and their knowledge of its health risks.
Benjamin M. Eidelson, 17, of Merion Station, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, conducted the study of smallpox policies. He used data from previous outbreaks in a series of computer simulations, testing more than 19,000 possible outcomes based on different response strategies and different kinds of demographic challenges.
Mr. Eidelson, a senior at Akiba Hebrew Academy, which enrolls 336 students in grades 6 through 12, concluded that “ring vaccination,” in which all individuals in a set area around a smallpox outbreak are vaccinated, was about as effective as mass vaccination “when a very substantial proportion of new cases could be detected and isolated almost immediately after infection.”
But his computer simulations also found that ring vaccination was more susceptible than mass vaccination to complications when confronted with an unfortunate stream of accidents or a particularly vulnerable community.
Risks of Tanning
The other top winner, Robert Levine, 18, of Lincolnshire, Ill., studied artificial tanning by teenagers who attend his public school, Adlai E. Stevenson High School. In a survey, the senior asked about their attitudes toward tanning and their knowledge of the health risks.
Nearly one-fourth of the 400 students surveyed, a stratified random sample of the school’s 4,400 students, said they used indoor tanning booths; older students did so significantly more than younger ones; and girls were nearly five times more likely than boys to go to tanning booths, he found. Nine out of 10 tanners said they did so to improve their appearance.
Despite the popularity of indoor tanning, students recognized the health risks of exposure to ultraviolet rays. Nine out of 10 of the students surveyed believed indoor tanning was unhealthy, but only half the respondents reported using sunscreen regularly, with girls using sunscreen more often than boys.