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Innovation

The teenager who could revolutionize space travel

At age 18, Erika DeBenedictis has created a software navigation system that would let spacecraft find the fastest and most fuel-efficient transit routes through the solar system.

Erika DeBenedictis could revolutionize space travel. At age 18, she has created a software navigation system that would let spacecraft find the fastest and most fuel-efficient transit routes through the solar system.

As I reported on this blog last month, DeBenedictis of New Mexico was one of the 40 finalists of the Intel Science Talent Search. On Tuesday night, with the announcement from Intel and the Society for Science & the Public, she became this year's $100,000 grand prize winner.

According to the Interplanetary Superhighway concept, gravity and movement of planets create a network of low-energy orbits, which allow for more efficient space travel. To expand on that research, DeBenedictis created a software navigation system that would let spacecraft exploit those opportunities. Using her algorithm, spacecraft could adjust flight path during travel to take energy-minimizing routes.

This isn't DeBenedictis' first academic accolade. She won earlier awards from the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

David Liu, 18, of Saratoga, Calif., won the second place $75,000 prize in the Intel competition for his development of a system to recognize and understand digital images. His work is already being put to practical use, examining aerial images to identify hazards to buried oil pipelines. The system could also be applied to enable unmanned aerial vehicles and Web-based image searches.

Akhil Mathew, 18, of Madison, N.J., took third place and $50,000 for his math project on Deligne categories, a setting for studying a wide range of algebraic structures with ties to theoretical physics.

"These 40 Intel Science Talent Search finalists demonstrate that we have the capability in this country to cultivate the next generation of innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs," Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini said. "These young scientists are proof that curious, eager minds coupled with inspiring, knowledgeable teachers are the foundation for world-changing innovation."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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