"Too many questions, not enough answers — a curious girl with a passion for science." That's how Pooja describes herself. Her gleeful vitality and enthusiasm bubble over is so many ways that her friends call her "Bubbles."

Perhaps nothing would cause her to sparkle more than some astronomer's using the results of her Intel Science Talent Search project to find a star with a core of Gapless Color-Flavor Locked (gCFL) quark matter. Don't bother much with what those terms mean. Quarks are such ethereal subatomic particles that physicists conjure up fanciful labels like "flavor" and "color" for properties that can be measured or inferred but have no counterpart in the everyday world of human experience.

Astronomers peer out into the vast reaches of space in part to look backward in time and learn about the universe when it was younger. Ever since the Big Bang, stars have been rushing away from each other, but of course they can't travel faster than the speed of light. So the light that reaches us today from a really far-off star may have been emitted 10 billion years ago, only a few billion years after the Big Bang. That's when quarks were born — and almost instantly condensed into the atoms that make up matter now. One way to study quarks is to create them, for a few billionths of a second, in a collider like the one at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

There's another way. Stars have finite lifetimes. They eventually burn up their hydrogen, cool, and die. Death to a star means it either collapses into a neutron star or a black hole, depending on how massive it was. Pooja looked at how neutron stars continue to cool, and she turned up an unexpected discovery: If they have any gCFL quark matter in their core, it acts like a hot-water bottle, keeping the star hotter longer. Thus, some of these very old stars may still be visible, and that could give astrophysicists an opportunity to learn more about quark matter — and answer a few more of Pooja's questions.

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Pooja S. Jotwani

Charles W. Flanagan High School
Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Hobbies: Classical Indian dance, salsa, debating, head of youth group at Sindhi Association of South Florida

Ambition: Theoretical physics research