A Deering High School senior who took top honors at the 2021 Maine State Science Fair for her research on an inexpensive way to remove arsenic from drinking water systems won a top national scholarship Thursday.

Linh Nguyen Photo courtesy of the Nguyen family

Linh Nguyen was the First Place Grand Award winner at the science fair, which took place virtually last Saturday. On Thursday, she learned she was named a Cooke College Scholar, one of only 61 students honored nationwide by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the only one from Maine.

As a Cooke College Scholar, Nguyen will receive up to $40,000 a year to attend the college of her choice.

Maine’s science fair is organized by The Jackson Laboratory and the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance. This year, 157 students from 23 schools took part in the event, presenting research and engineering projects to a panel of judges.

Nguyen’s research focused on using carbon nanotubes – microscopic tubes – to remove arsenic in drinking water systems and wells.

In addition to the First Place Grand Award, Nguyen took first place in the Environmental Engineering category and received the Cary James Water Ride Scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship she can apply to the college of her choice.

Nguyen, 18, credits her teachers for sparking an interest in science.

“They make science feel fun and cool, even though the stereotype is that science is boring and nerdy,” she said in an interview Thursday night. “I don’t think science runs in my family. I’ve always been just interested in learning in general.”

Nguyen said a science teacher’s mention of antibiotic pollution prompted her to research environmental cleanup techniques, and she wanted to make it applicable to Maine, where many houses have private wells that have arsenic in the water. Nguyen said her approach involves absorbing the arsenic, which is less expensive than some filtering and other remediation methods.

Vetri Vel, a Bangor High School senior, was the Second Place Grand Award winner at the science fair, winning for his improvements to software that can detect falls by elderly people living alone and send a call for help. His device uses a thermal-imaging detector of his own creation.

The Third Place Grand Award went to Mateus Nascimento, a senior at Brunswick High School, for his work on understanding silk moth communication.

All three Grand Award winners will be invited to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, which will be held virtually in May. That competition also offers financial and scholarship awards.

Nguyen and the other 60 Cooke College Scholars were chosen from a pool of more than 5,800 applicants.

The scholarship program is intended to create greater higher education access for driven students with financial need. In addition to the scholarship money, winners are given ongoing educational advice and opportunities for internships, study abroad programs and access to funding for graduate school.

“Linh is highly conscientious and determined, with an outstanding work ethic. She seeks to understand concepts rather than just complete assignments, and adds to her classmates’ learning with probing questions that tie back to ‘why this matters,’ ” Libby Heselton, a Deering High School counselor, said. “She is all about collaborative problem solving.”

“Linh is the kind of student who inspires everyone around her. She is driven by her curiosity and she is not afraid of putting in the hard work needed to accomplish any task,” said Deering High School science teacher Cyle Davenport, who said he is fortunate to have Nguyen in two of his classes. “Her success at the MSSF is completely deserved. Linh does not give up. All of her teachers are overwhelmed with pride for this young woman and we are all eager to see what she does next.”

Heselton, the counselor, said Nguyen is considering Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Princeton and Yale for college.

Correction: This story was updated at 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, 2021, to correct the winner of the third place grand prize.


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