WASHINGTON (CBS) — Two Chicago area high school seniors are in Washington, D.C., competing in America’s most prestigious pre-college science tournament.

As WBBM’ Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, the Intel Science Talent Search is considered the mother of all science fairs, with 40 of the nation’s most elite students competing for the $100,000 grand prize.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

Among them are Adam Kalinich, 17, of Glen Ellyn, who studies at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, and Jordan Cotler, also 17, of Northbrook, a senior at Glenbrook North.

Cotler says he has always been passionate about science, although not necessarily with all the stereotypes.

“I’m not quite sure what you would call a nerd. I mean, I don’t have, like, a pocket protector,” he said. “But I really love science and math.”

His project involves a new method of encrypting fiber-optic and satellite communications, using quantum mechanics and relativity. In his spare time, he’s also a professional magician who has patented magic tricks he has invented and sold them to magicians worldwide.

Kalinich’s project explores the complexity of determining a winner in “poset games” that mathematicians often study use. Poset games are strategy games for two players such as Nim and Chomp, which involve a “partially ordered set” of elements with varying values. The players take turns removing an element and all elements of greater value, until there are no elements left.

Exploring insights from Nim, Kalinich obtained results for general poset games, which were published in a mathematical journal. Last summer, he taught two weeklong workshops for math students in Cambodia.

Cotler says win or lose, just being in the competition is reward enough.

“Really this week has been so wonderful, that would just be icing,” he said. “Just to spend time with these other people has been really a life-changing experience.”

Both boys have been accepted to some of the most renowned universities, and plan futures in the sciences.

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