Hanford student takes 2nd place in Intel Science Talent Search

By Annette Cary, Herald Staff Writer March 14, 2012 

A lifelong fascination with water has helped a Hanford High School senior win $75,000 and second place in a prestigious national science competition.

Andrey Sushko, 17, of Richland, was named the second place winner Tuesday night in the Intel Science Talent Search, a competition entered by more than 1,800 science students and known for producing alumni who have won seven Nobel Prizes.

Sushko developed a motor less than a quarter inch in diameter that depends on changing the surface area of water to turn a rotor.

He was interested in developing a motor that would power a nano- or micro-scale robot, he said before heading to the competition in Washington, D.C., as one of 40 finalists.

Conventional motors rely on magnets and coils that become inefficient at the small scale he was interested in, he said.

But turning to water for a solution was a natural for him.

"He was kind of always drawn to water since an early, early age," said his mother, Maria Sushko, a scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. His father, Peter Sushko, is a scientist for University College London and collaborates with PNNL.

First her son was interested in boats and building channels and later starting constructing boats that were operational, she said. His tiniest model weighs less than a half-ounce and he filed for a Guinness world record for the smallest radio-controlled sailing yacht.

Sailing motorized model boats helped him grasp how the surface tension of water works, he said. Water tries to minimize its surface area, explaining why water forms into curved drops, he said.

In addition, he had done some reading about electrowetting, or using electricity to change the curvature of water, and the idea for his invention was born.

By using an electrical pulse, he changes the shape of the water surface and the difference in the surface drives a rotor.

He created his prototype with bits and pieces of metal, plastic and candle wax he found around the house. Earlier this winter, he demonstrated that it could turn the rotor 180 degrees.

That is his proof of concept, he said. But in theory, as the motor is scaled down it should become "incredibly powerful for its size," he said.

Sushko was born in Russia, moved to London when he was 5 and to the United States about three years ago.

He hopes he next will be headed to Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the California Institute of Technology to study physics, he said.

A second student from Richland, Katrina Hui, a senior at Richland High, was among 300 semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search.

The daughter of Edmund Hui and Ruby Leung Hui, she used mathematical modeling to study sickle-cell anemia by simulating the behavior of red blood cells.

Sushko and Hui are high school student research interns at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Sushko does work related to carbon sequestration and Hui works in the computational mathematics division.

The top award in the Intel Science Talent Search this year went to Nithin Tumma of Fort Gratiot, Mich., who won $100,000 for research that showed inhibiting certain proteins might slow the growth of cancer cells.

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