Jiayi Peng said the best thing about being a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search was chatting with researchers at Intel and Oracle, among the brightest minds in science.

"Over pancakes at breakfast, we talk about biology. The conversations are amazing," Peng said. "I feel like I've learned more this week than in a semester at school."

The 17-year-old Horace Greeley student was one of three Westchester County teenagers to head to Washington this week for the prestigious competition's final leg.

On Tuesday night, they learned they didn't make the top 10, but all three said they were grateful for the experience.

Dressed in tuxedos or a gown, the three teens -- Peng; Chris Traver, 18, of Croton-Harmon High School; and Daniel McQuaid, 17, of Ossining High School -- were among the nation's most promising young scientists at the D.C. gala, which took place at the National Building Museum. Ten finalists were chosen from the 40 teens who made it to the nation's capital.

"Being here has been an incredible experience," McQuaid said.

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For Traver, it was an opportunity to talk to like-minded people who were able to appreciate his hard work.

"Its been great to relate with other students about my project," he said. "They understand it."

The three students were selected for the Intel competition based on multiyear projects conducted in the science research programs at their high schools. Traver investigated noise pollution, incorporating the work of resident scientists who used smartphones to collect data. Peng looked at the dynamics of the brain's neural networks, and McQuaid is studying cancer treatments.

The teenagers, who were chosen out of a pool of more than 1,700 applicants, missed out on the $100,000 grand prize, but were still rewarded well for their efforts, collecting $7,500 prizes.