HONOLULU – A Hawaiian teen has won a $20,000 scholarship and the title America's Top Young Scientist of the Year.
"Right now, I'm more or less in shock," said Nolan Kamitaki, 14. "I was just happy to be in the national competition. I didn't expect this at all."
The Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge is for student grades 5 through 8. The winners were announced Wednesday.
Kamitaki is now a freshman at Waiakea High School. To get to the national competition in Washington, D.C., he first had to win his school science fair, district science fair and then state science fair.
He entered with a project analyzing the effect arsenic in local soils has had on Big Island school children. He also competed against 40 finalists in a series of challenges at the National Institutes of Health.
"I tested for arsenic levels first in the soils of the Keaau and Hilo area, and I tested hair samples of students who attend nearby schools," Kamitaki said. "After reading newspaper articles, I realized there is a big problem with arsenic in the Keaau area where a hotel is about to be built. I decided if it is a problem for tourists, it is definitely a problem for kids who go to the schools there."
Wayne Kamitaki is still having a hard time believing his son won.
"He felt he had a chance, but we didn't want him to get too excited. The odds were difficult," he said. "We're so proud of him."
The younger Kamitaki said he hasn't yet decided what he'd like to study in college, but he's leaning toward medicine or physics.
His father said he hopes his son's win will encourage other students in the islands.
"He's from the public school system from Hawaii. Hawaii is such a small state and sometimes it is overlooked," he said. "Hopefully this shows people that Hawaii's kids can compete."