Teen whiz in science wins prize

Some people go through life without ever getting their 15 minutes of fame.

Not Philip Zeylinger. The 15-year-old Milpitas resident has already appeared on nationwide TV in Israel this summer as a contestant on a highly intellectual version of the game show "Jeopardy."

Philip was invited to participate in a widely televised science competition known as Olympiyeda (Olympics of the mind), sponsored by Haifa's Israel National Museum of Science.

His Israeli adventure began when he arrived Aug. 3 to begin a two-week training program at Haifa's Technion-Israel Center of Technology. He was joined by students from Israel and English-speaking countries. They studied such topics as cracking top-secret codes; how animals "speak" with one another; and how radio, television and other communication stations work.

Although the program also included tours of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem, Philip said he was most impressed by an inside look at a telephone company.

"I saw the fiber-optic cables that connect Israel to the rest of world," Philip said.

After the two-week training ended, the contestants were blitzed with grueling questions on everything they learned. At the end, only 12 of the 50 semi-finalists were picked to appear on television.

Philip was one of them.

In the finale of his trip, Philip entered the TV studio. The mind-battle began with a salvo of questions on scientific topics. After the explosions of hand-claps, cheers and camera flashes, only four contestants survived.

Philip was one of them.

Then the final round began.

"They asked me to explain how radios and cell phones work, plus everything else connected with the materials we studied," Philip said.

Philip came in second and received $1,000.

An Australian took first place.

Philip heard about the contest from the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. After sending in his application, he received a packet containing sample questions in math and scientific topics, including electricity and magnetism. He must have scored high, because a second test soon followed. After that, Philip was invited to fly to Israel.

Even though the ensuing competition was grueling, Philip said the contestants pulled together. "The kids were very united and after the show we didn't want to leave."

Although Philip participates in the Latin, engineering and math clubs and the Junior Classical League at the Menlo School in Atherton, he has found time since his summer adventure to build a Web site to keep in touch with the friends he met in Israel.

Teenage science buffs can now apply for entry in next summer's 1998 Olympiyeda. The competition is open to ninth- and 10th-graders in Israel, the United States, England, Canada and Australia.

Applications are available through the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center, Palo Alto, (415) 493-9400. Nov. 1 is the deadline for submissions.