Freshman wins $25,000 in Broadcom MASTERS


courtesy R. Grace

Freshman River Grace explains his research at Broadcom MASTERS competition in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

Freshman River Grace won the grand prize of $25,000 in the national 2013 Broadcom MASTERS competition in Washington D.C. on Tuesday for his studies on endangered tortoises. One of 30 finalists, Grace earned the Samueli Foundation Prize, which honors overall excellence in STEM studies.

“It was really awesome. I was shocked I got it because everyone there was so amazing,” he said via email. “I’m just really proud to represent West Shore and Brevard County.”

Grace said he was inspired after visiting the Florida Tech breeding facility that his father Michael runs.

When it rained, some of the tortoises displayed this dance-like behavior, standing up tall and stretching their legs,” he said. “Then they would scratch them together.”

Grace began to research this dance behavior and competed in the regional and state science fairs with his project “Rain Dance of the Radiata: Behavior of the Endangered Radiated Tortoise and Related Species.” There, the judges nominated Grace to compete in the 2013 Broadcom MASTERS competition. In a press release, Paula Golden, the executive director of the Broadcom Foundation and Director of Community Affairs of the Broadcom Corporation, said the all the finalists were “exemplars of the transformative power of STEM learning.”

“Congratulations to River and all our extraordinary Broadcom MASTERS finalists, whose STEM skills, leadership qualities and team spirit represent the critical array of diversified talent needed to innovate solutions to the world’s grand challenges in technology, communications healthcare, transportation, energy and environmental sustainability,” she said.

While at the MASTERS competition, the 30 finalists were divided into teams of 5 to compete, and Grace’s team won that award. Michael Grace described the highlights of River’s experiences.

“He presented his research to a huge crowd at the headquarters of the National Geographic Society,” he said in an email to Principal Rick Fleming. “Today was very special – he and the other students met with President Obama in the White House. River got to shake the President’s hand and talk with him, and [President Obama] gave the kids a personal tour of the Oval Office, complete with lots of jokes.”

Before competing in the Broadcom MASTERS competition, Grace spent a day at the National Zoo, where he met the curator of the zoo, the curator of herpetology and the staff of the reptile department.

“I was able to test three of the species they had there. The staff gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo,” he said. “The curator of herpetology was really kind and gave me three signed copies of his books.”

In addition to the $25,000 prize, River will have an asteroid named after him.

“It’s really awesome. Apparently, they’ve only found 15,000 of them, and they’re usually named after really important or famous people,” he said. “So it’s a really big honor to be there with those people as asteroids.”

Science research teacher Mary Anderson also will have a planet named after her for the guidance she gave Grace.

“He’s really put a lot of time and effort into his research. I’m so glad he’s being recognized because students like this don’t come often,” she said. “He’s made the wall of fame for West Shore research students. His picture should be hung on my classroom wall.”