Whiz Kid

updated 06/04/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/04/2001 01:00AM

Most teens can tell you all about Carson Daly's love life or what's up with Buffy and Angel, but how many are hip to the quantum phenomena of nanowires?

At least one: high school senior Mariangela Lisanti, 17, who not only understands quantum theory but has advanced its study. Her creation of a device that measures the electronic properties of microscopic wires—fashioned from $35 worth of Radio Shack speaker parts—earned her first prize and a $100,000 scholarship in last December's Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition, followed by top honors (and another hundred grand) at the Intel Science talent search in March. "It was like a dream," says Lisanti of winning the prestigious Intel contest. "The only two words I could say were 'wow' and 'cool.' "

Others are more expansive. Lisanti's device will produce data that is "critically important to shrinking electronics for the next generation," says Mark A. Reed, the Yale University applied physics professor who supervised her research. "She scooped some of the world's best scientists." Perhaps more remarkably, she keeps her room neat and arranges her books by height. Born in The Bronx to Anthony, a seller of imported cheese, and Anna, a homemaker (their other daughter, Antonella, 11, is also a top student), Lisanti showed an interest in physics as early as the eighth grade. Last August, during an internship at Yale, she discovered a way to quickly analyze atomic arrangements on a tiny wire. "I thought," she says of her eureka moment, " 'Oh God, did I make a mistake?' "

Next Lisanti, who earns money by cat-sitting, will get ready to go to Harvard in the fall. Now if only she can find the time to catch up on Dawson's Creek.

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