Eric Brooks, a senior at Hewlett High School who embarked on a university-level anti-cancer research project at age 14, was recognized Tuesday with a $30,000 award from the national Intel science contest.
Prizes for Brooks and nine other top winners capped a week's visit to Washington, D.C., where competitors schmoozed with congressional representatives and fielded judges' questions testing their ability to think like scientists.
Samples: Why do soap bubbles form spherically rather than in random shapes? If the force of gravity were reduced to one-half, how would life on Earth change?
"Oh, it's awesome - the best thing that's ever happened in my life," said Brooks, 16, minutes after winning his prize at a black-tie dinner.
Brooks captured fifth place in the competition - the 12th Long Island student to win a top Intel prize since 2001. This year's first-place $100,000 award went to Erika DeBenedictis, 18, of Albuquerque, N.M., who developed a navigation system for space travel.
For his project, Brooks joined a medical research team at New York University in its quest for an accurate tool to diagnose whether a prostate cancer is likely to turn lethal.
The teen started in the summer of his junior year as a volunteer, then was placed on the team's part-time payroll in recognition of his precocious grasp of biostatistical concepts.
"I'd put him on a level with postdoctoral researchers," said Dr. Alexander Pearlman, an NYU research fellow. Pearlman added that the teen also has captured attention for his ability to subsist on lunches consisting solely of chocolate-chip cookies.
Besides his cancer studies, Brooks has competed in national history and economics contests and has produced a 10-minute documentary on the evolutionary research of Charles Darwin. Patricia Nardi, a social-science research adviser at George W. Hewlett High, describes him as "a true renaissance man."
Long Island fielded nine finalists this year, out of 40 nationwide. Brooks was the only local teen placing in the top 10, but others found the experience rewarding as well.
He also took first place in another national contest, funded by the Siemens Corp., in December. He won $100,000.