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Teen's research puts him in talent search

A 17-year-old poet who dabbles in painting when he's not on the soccer field has another accomplishment: He's among the best young scientists in the country.

Benjamin Zusman, of Hollywood, was one of 40 high school seniors nationwide and two in Florida named as finalists in the prestigious 59th Intel Science Talent Search competition.

Formerly known as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, the contest has been nicknamed the "Junior Nobel Prize." Past winners include five Nobel laureates, nine MacArthur Foundation fellows and two Fields medalists.

The 40 finalists go to Washington, D.C., in March to compete for the top award, a $100,000, four-year college scholarship. Zusman, a student at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, plans to attend Harvard.

The only other Florida student named as a finalist was Helen Wiersma, a senior at Okeechobee High in Okeechobee County. Wiersma developed a way to control tropical soda apples, a weed that has infested Florida's cow pastures.

For Zusman, his project took on global and personal meaning.

Propelled by his battle with cystic fibrosis and by a deep-seated interest in science, Zusman began his project last summer at the University of Florida genetic research lab. What he produced under the direction of university scientists was groundbreaking research on gene therapy treatments for sufferers of cystic fibrosis and other ailments.

"The ultimate goal of this research is to cure many forms of disease," Zusman said. "I appreciate science and the power it has to change things for the better."

Zusman's research project was presented to the 13th Annual North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference.