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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 2, 2007

Enlightened by science

 •  Fifty years of expanding minds
 •  Budding scientists benefit from fair

By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Staff Writer

Neal Atebara used data he collected from Mauna Kea in his 1982 science fair project.

Neal Atebara

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Catherine Uyehara

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Neal Atebara

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Iris Terashima

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High school: McKinley High School

Science fair project: Won in 1977 for her project on the effects of sea cucumber toxins on heart and respiratory rates of 'opae (shrimp) and other fish.

Higher education: B.Sc. in psychobiology from Yale University, Ph.D. in physiology at from the University of Hawai'i, post-doctoral research at Smith Klein Beecham in Philadelphia.

Grew up to be: Deputy chief of research in the Department of Clinical Investigation and director of collaborative research at Tripler Army Medical Center.

On the fair: "(It) does a wonderful job of showing scientists in action in so many fields: oceanography, medicine, engineering. I had such great teachers at McKinley High School, and entering the State Science Fair kept up my interest in science; it opened my eyes to career possibilities and more than that ... to science being fun. Hawai'i is so isolated and winning the fair and going to the Mainland was a big thing for me. I found (the Mainland) wasn't such a scary place. I could compete at the same level as kids there, and it felt OK to be a little bit of a nerd."


High school: Waiakea High School, Big Island, in 1982

Science fair project: Nature of the 3.28 Micron Spectral Band Emission in Planetary Nebula NGC 6369. Atebara used data he collected on the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea while on a summer program run by the National Science Foundation.

Higher education: Yale and Harvard Medical School

Grew up to be: Ophthalmologist

On the fair: "It taught me to think analytically, an important process in science in particular and in life in general. The opportunity to mix with people who thought my project was cool and to take part in something outside my hometown was very important.

"Hawai'i has the potential to grow a terrific technology-driven economy. ... On O'ahu (alone), there are companies exploring fuel cells and cutting-edge medical instrumentation. There are many creative ways we can diversify our state economy into the high-tech arena, and the science fair is essential if Hawai'i wants to be taken seriously as a state that supports the technology industry."

Why ophthalmology? "Astronomy is all about seeing things clearly and that is the goal for ophthalmology as well. ... The indirect ophthalmoscope uses the same optical principles as an astronomical telescope," and the cool optical instruments are a big attraction.


High school: Waialua High School

Science fair project: Sugarcane Juice: Material for the Efficient Production of Ethanol as an Alternate Energy Source, which won in 1981.

Higher education: Northwestern University with a B.Sc. in chemical engineering

Grew up to be: Manager of federal environmental cleanup projects in the Pacific, with global engineering design giant URS Corp.

On the fair: "My mentor at the HSPC was a chemical engineer. When my project won at the Hawaii State Science Fair and also at the ISEF in Milwaukee, that directly influenced my decision to study chemical engineering at Northwestern. Coming from a small town, the success really cemented my confidence," said Terashima, who grew up in the shadow of Waialua Sugar Mill, when the 1974 gas shortages were still fresh in everyone's mind.

"Kids: Pursue your interests whatever they are, work with your teachers, and the community and if you are lucky enough, industry professionals. Enter your project and go for it. ... It's important for kids to have mentors to go to for advice and to help them discover who they are and what their interests might be. The fair is an excellent example of industry, schools and the community coming together in what is really a great collaboration."

Reach Chris Oliver at coliver@honoluluadvertiser.com.