BETHESDA, Md. - The Army, Navy and Air Force awarded $144,000 in scholarships to high school students with the best science presentations at the 48th National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium April 28 to May 2 held here.

An Army-led, tri-service program that promotes science and engineering education through 48 regional symposia throughout the year, JSHS culminates with the top five winners -- 240 students -- getting an all-expenses-paid trip to nationals and the top two presenting their research.

Nearly 100 scientifically advanced students vied for the opportunity to win $16,000, $6,000 and $2,000 scholarships as the top three winners in six categories scientific categories.

"It's overwhelming - almost unbelievable," exclaimed Sherman Wu, a senior from Detroit Country Day School in Michigan who won 1st place in the medicine and health sciences category for his work in examining gene expression influence in breast cancer.

"I'm really glad, and it will really help my parents," he added.

Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, commander Research Development and Engineering Command, tried to impress on the budding scientists how important their role in society will become.

"Think about what you're going to do with your education and talent," he said to the packed ballroom at the awards banquet. "Choose an exciting life - one that is meaningful to you and valuable to other people."

"The future of this country is sitting with you," he added.

For Wu, the JSHS program kept the idea of working for the National Institutes of Health at the forefront of his promising career in cancer research.

"After school I will definitely be considering a job there," said Wu.

The event wrapped up with the winners of the scholarship competition but throughout the symposium the students were immersed in a positive scientific environment, said Ashley Wade Youth Science Program manager for the Army Research Laboratory's Research Office and event organizer.

They were given a packed schedule of visiting government laboratories, listening to prestigious guest speakers from the Army Research Laboratory and other organizations, and attending scientific seminars.

"My favorite parts are getting to see new technologies and socializing with kids from other states," said Ylan Nguyen, a junior at the High School for Health Professionals in New York, N.Y., who researched the nutrient variability in the Jamaica Bay water.

"It's been fun because when you talk about science people actually understand," she added.

The students represented the competitors whose research and presentation skills brought them to the top of more than 10,000 students who originally competed at the regional level. They were also given $1,500, $1,000 and $500 scholarships for first through third place at the regionals.

"The students who get here are extraordinary. They're doing wonderful things," said Dr. Daniel Wulff, JSHS judging co-chair, upstate New York regional director, and professor of biology at the University of Albany.

Wulff said he was "extremely impressed" not just with the students but also with the quality of judging from the DoD and other government scientists who participated in the event, many who work in the laboratories the students toured.

"I really thought (the symposium) was held an excellent location," he added.

In addition to their scholarship awards, first place winners from all six categories at the nationals were invited to attend the Army Science Conference to present their research and will travel to the London International Youth Science Forum scheduled this summer.

"There they'll have opportunities to network with Army and other researchers working in their fields of interest that could result in internships and other enrichment opportunities," Wade said.

The JSHS has a long history of bringing out talented math and science students in research. The Office of Ordnance Research, now ARL's Army Research Office, first established JSHS as a local program in North Carolina in the 1950's shortly after the Russian launch of Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting artificial satellite, when the public was beginning to understand the importance of scientific innovation.

Since then, the program has grown into a national Army scholarship program and now a tri-service program, with the Navy and Air Force who also have an interest in fostering science and math education as well as educating students about the basic and applied research the military does.

Scientists are the backbone of military advancements, and even if students decide not to work in a service laboratory such as ARL, they will still make significant contributions, Wade said.

"ARL alone has over 1,500 research grants nationwide, which means they could still apply for funding and do valuable research for the Army, even if they're at universities or working in industry," Wade said.

"The bottom line is we want to promote original research among high school students and encourage the next generation of scientists," she said.