QUENTIN HARDY 2015年9月9日
SAN FRANCISCO — Intel , the world's largest maker of semiconductors, is dropping its longtime support of the most prestigious science and mathematics competition for American high school students.
The contest, called the Science Talent Search, brings 40 finalists to Washington for meetings with leaders in government and industry and counts among its past competitors eight Nobel Prize winners, along with chief executives, university professors and award-winning scientists.
這項競賽名叫“科學天才獎”(Science Talent Search)，40名決賽入圍選手可以來到華盛頓，與政府高官和企業高管會面。其參賽者中曾產生過八名諾貝爾獎得主，以及一些首席執行官、大學教授和獲獎科學家。
Over the years, the award for work in so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — has made national headlines and been an important indicator of America's educational competitiveness and national priorities. When it was started as an essay competition in 1942 , its first topic was “How science can help win the war.” The male winner, or “Top Boy,” went on to develop an artificial kidney. The “Top Girl” became an ophthalmologist. A single winner was first named in 1949 .
Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“When I was a finalist in 1961, it was the Sputnik generation, when America was competing with Russia to get into space,” said Mary Sue Coleman, a former president of the University of Michigan and a current member of the board of the Society for Science and the Public, which administers the contest. “It was a national obsession. People in school cheered us on like we were star athletes. I got letters from the heads of corporations.”
“我在1961年入圍決賽，那是人造衛星的一代，當時美國正在和蘇聯展開太空競賽，”瑪麗·蘇·科爾曼(Mary Sue Coleman)說。她曾任密歇根大學校長，目前是科學與公眾協會(Society for Science and the Public)董事，該協會負責舉辦這項競賽。“當時全國都很迷戀這個比賽。學校的人為我們加油，好像我們是明星運動員似的。我還收到一些大企業老闆的信。”
Dropping support for the high school contest is a puzzling decision by Intel, since it costs about $6 million a year — about 0.01 percent of Intel's $55.6 billion in revenue last year — and it generates significant good will for the sponsoring organization. Intel has also increased the size and scope of the award, giving more than $1.6 million annually to students and schools, compared with $207,000 when it began its sponsorship in 1998.
The Silicon Valley giant took over sponsorship of the award with great fanfare from Westinghouse, becoming only the second company to back the prize in its 73-year history. At the time it was seen as something of a passing of the torch in American industry, to a company then at the heart of the Information Age from one renowned for industrial work in things like nuclear power plants.
Craig Barrett, a former chief executive of Intel, is even a member of the board of the Society for Science and the Public. He said he was “surprised and a little disappointed” by Intel's decision.
“It's such a premier event in terms of young people and technology,” Mr. Barrett said. “But they appear to be more interested in applied things, like” Maker Faire, an all-ages event that showcases homemade engineering projects.
Mr. Barrett said he had talked with Brian M. Krzanich, Intel's chief executive for the last two years, about the contest. Though Mr. Barrett thought it was inappropriate to aggressively lobby his old employer, he termed the annual cost “a rounding error ” against Intel's finances.
貝瑞特說，在過去的兩年裡，他一直和英特爾首席執行官布萊恩·M·科再奇(Brian M. Krzanich)談論這項競賽。雖然貝瑞特認為，過於積極地遊說自己的老東家有些不妥，但他稱資助比賽的年度開銷與英特爾的財務狀況相比，只相當於“舍入誤差”。
“My only comment to Brian was that we'd move forward,” said Mr. Barrett, who became Intel's chief executive in 1998 and retired as chairman of Intel's board in 2009. He now runs a chain of charter schools , called Basis, from Phoenix.
There is little indication that the contest has lost its prestige. Applications have held steady at around 1,800 a year for a decade. And in March, President Obama met with the Talent Search finalists at the White House.
Gail Dudas, a spokeswoman for Intel, could not say why it was ending its support, but she said the company, which has struggled with a shift to mobile computing devices but is still one of the tech industry's most influential names, is “proud of its legacy” in supporting the award.
The Science Talent Search is open to any student in the United School or its territories in his or her last year of secondary school. Independent individual research by thousands of students is narrowed down to 300 semifinalists. Of those, 40 finalists are chosen.
Previous finalists include Ray Kurzweil, a well-known author and director of engineering at Google, and Brian Greene, a best-selling science writer. Thomas Leighton, the chief executive of the Internet company Akamai, was a finalist and is now on the society's board.
此前的決賽選手包括知名作家、谷歌工程總監雷·庫日韋爾(Ray Kurzweil)，暢銷科普作家布賴恩·格林(Brian Greene)。互聯網公司Akamai首席執行官托馬斯·萊頓(Thomas Leighton)曾進入決賽，現在是科學與公眾協會的董事。
The finalists travel to Washington, where they present their work, meet government and private sector leaders and have their projects reviewed by a panel of judges. There were nine top awards in 2015, worth $35,000 to $150,000.
This year, Intel gave out three first prizes to highlight the variety of the research conducted. One student developed an algorithm to study adaptive mutations across the human genome. Another studied how phonons, the basic particles of sound, interact with electrons.
“They have been an excellent partner for almost 20 years, but their corporate priorities have changed,” said Maya Ajmera, president of the Society for Science and the Public.
To more recent winners, Intel may have received a benefit besides publicity — it got to teach the young stars more about Intel.
“They showed us stuff they were doing with wearable technologies and machine learning,” a type of artificial intelligence, said Noah Gulwich, a freshman at Harvard. He shared this year's prize for his work in a branch of mathematics known as the Ramsey theory, which finds structure in complex systems. “I didn't know much about all the things Intel does before I went to Washington.”
Ms. Ajmera said her group would start looking for a new corporate sponsor on Wednesday. “We pride ourselves on recognizing thousands of leaders in science and technology and hope to keep doing so,” she said.
Other board members expressed confidence that national competition would produce another corporate sponsor.
Ms. Coleman was a finalist in 1961 for researching drug-resistant bacteria. First prize that year was awarded to a study of bowing in the courtship behavior of the male ring dove.
She said she was “very aware” that Larry Page, co-founder and chief executive of Google, is a Michigan graduate and that Google might be a candidate. “This isn't a huge amount of money for what it represents,” she said. “I assume another corporation will step up to this.”
Intel informed the group of its decision about 18 months ago, she said, and it will continue to support the award through 2017, in keeping with an earlier contract.
Intel will continue to support a separate talent search aimed at international student competition at least through 2019, which is Intel's contractual term, said Ms. Dudas, the Intel spokeswoman.
In addition to the Intel-sponsored prize, the society also runs a science and technology competition for middle school students, financed by the Broadcom Foundation. Although Broadcom, another semiconductor company, was bought this year, the Broadcom Foundation is independent and will continue to support the prize.
“Intel's interests have changed,” said Ms. Coleman. “But we still think this is a very attractive prize to a number of corporations. It is still really important for the nation.”