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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. Last night, 40 middle-school science students and their teachers were honored 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 fourth annual Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (DCYSC), a national middle school science contest. Each of the 40 students received a certificate officially acknowledging their link to an extraterrestrial piece of real estate. Each student's science teacher will be similarly honored. This is the second year MIT Lincoln Laboratory has honored the DCYSC students and teachers.

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 recognizing top science students and their teachers by naming minor planets in their honor.

To find potential honorees, Stokes approached Science Service, which organizes three major science competitions for students, including the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge, the Intel Science Talent Search and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Stokes himself is a former high school science fair winner in New Mexico.

In addition to the official certificates, students and teachers 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.

About the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (DCYSC)

Created by Discovery Communications, Inc., in 1999, the DCYSC 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.

About Science Service

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.

Cities and states represented by students are:

Alabama: Birmingham;
California: Clovis, Goleta, Sanger;
Florida: Miami, Niceville, St. Petersburg;
Louisiana: Lake Charles, Paulina;
Minnesota: New Brighton;
Montana: Butte;
North Dakota: Hillsboro, Hoople;
New Mexico: Texico;
New York: Great Neck;
Ohio: Delaware, Upper Arlington;
Oregon: Applegate;
Pennsylvania: Lansdale, Malvern, Pittsburgh, West Grove;
Texas: Garland, Fort Worth, San Antonio;
Utah: Heber;
Virginia: Richmond;
West Virginia: Parkersburg, Wheeling;
Wyoming: Pinedale.

Students' and teachers' names available upon request.

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