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MIT Lincoln Laboratory names asteroids for top kids, teachers

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The asteroids zinging around our solar system have largely been named for their discoverers, or for famous people like Ella Fitzgerald, Vincent Van Gogh and the Beatles. Tonight, 40 middle-school science students and their teachers can claim the honor as well, thanks to MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

This week, 40 finalists are competing in Washington, D.C., for the title of "America's Top Young Scientist of the Year" in the third annual Discovery Young Scientist Challenge (DYSC), a national middle school science contest. Each of the 40 students tonight will receive a certificate officially acknowledging their link to an extraterrestrial piece of real estate. Each student's science teacher will be similarly honored.

Lincoln Laboratory has discovered thousands of near-Earth asteroids, or minor planets, since 1998 via the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program. LINEAR currently detects about 70 percent of the asteroids discovered every year.

Dr. David L. Briggs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, director of Lincoln Laboratory, has wanted to encourage science education in the middle and secondary schools. Together with Dr. Grant Stokes, LINEAR's principal investigator, they came up with the idea of naming minor planets for top science students and their teachers in grades five through 12.

To find potential honorees, Stokes approached Science Service, which organizes three major science competitions for students, including the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge, which is the first science challenge to include the asteroid honor. Stokes himself is a former high school science fair winner in New Mexico.

Lincoln Laboratory and Science Service plan to expand the honor to students and mentors for other competitions, including the Intel Science Talent Search and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

In addition to the official certificates, the students and teachers, who come from 15 states, will receive information on how to find their asteroids in the sky. Stokes noted, however, that honorees will have to go to an observatory to see their namesakes, as the asteroids are too tiny to detect with the naked eye or a standard telescope. But size is relative. According to Dr. Stokes, "Each asteroid is several kilometers in diameter, which is a pretty big piece of real estate."

Operated by MIT for more than 50 years, Lincoln Laboratory carries out research and development in support of national security for the Department of Defense and other government agencies. The LINEAR program is supported by the United States Air Force and NASA.


Created by Discovery Communications, Inc., in 1999, the DYSC is a national middle school science contest that encourages the communication, exploration and understanding of science among America's youth. Each year, the Smithsonian Institution hosts the DYSC finalists, granting them unprecedented access to renowned scientists and historians as well as to museum laboratories and other research facilities.

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One of the most respected nonprofit organizations advancing the cause of science, Science Service conducts high-quality competitions on the national and international level, including the Intel Science Talent Search and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

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Patti Richards

MIT News Office

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Georgia Juvelis


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Students' and teachers' names available upon request. Cities and states represented by students are: Arizona: Tucson;California: Manhattan Beach, Clovis, Somis, Agoura, Palos Verdes; Connecticut: Hamden; Florida: New Port Richey, Venice, Altamonte, Vero Beach; Hawaii: Honolulu; Illinois: Springfield; Indiana: Beech Grove, Ft. Wayne; Louisiana:Alexandria, Lake Charles; Maryland: Middletown; Massachusetts: Falmouth, Worcester; Montana: Butte; New Mexico:House, Bernalillo, Moriarty; New York: Wappingers Falls; Pennsylvania: Landisville; Texas: San Antonio, Lubbock, College Station; Utah: Springville; West Virginia: Wheeling; Wyoming: Sheridan

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