Westinghouse Award Winner : Whiz Kid Says His Life Is 'Like Anyone Else's'

Times Staff Writer

Andrew Feig, an 18-year-old University High School senior, is living the everyday life of a normal high school student, or so he says.

He plays the flute, studies art history, reads science fiction and collects buttons with scientific slogans. He also spends 25 to 30 hours a week at UCLA Medical Center seeking to unlock some of the mysteries of a deadly cancer that afflicts children.

His research earned him a trip to Washington, D. C., along with 39 other finalists, to compete for $140,000 in scholarships in the 45th Westinghouse Talent Search. Feig placed ninth for a $7,000 award.

Feig said he lives a "normal life like anyone else," but he does have some unusual skills.

For example, he speaks fluent Swedish after spending his ninth-grade year in Sweden as an exchange student. "I stayed with a family with four younger children," he said. "They didn't speak any English so I had to learn Swedish. When you live with four younger brothers and sisters, you can learn a language very quickly."

And then there's his academic load: Feig is taking advanced classes in English, calculus and physics and an independent-study course in biomedical techniques. He scored 1,400 out of a possible 1,600 on his combined math and English college SATs and he has applied to go to Harvard, Yale or Princeton next year.

Feig said that in his research he has examined the effects of proteins within the nucleus of the cancer cells of patients with neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that is usually fatal. "We think the proteins make the cells more aggressive," he said.

He said that he hopes his research will help in the discovery of a cure, but that a cure is at least 15 years away. "We have to prove that protein is causing the aggressive behavior and then figure what it is doing to cause the aggressive behavior," he said.

Feig "is a bright student who is very motivated and self-directed," said his supervisor, Dr. Robert Seeger, a professor of pediatrics and the chief of the cancer immunology and biology division at UCLA.

"He will make a good investigator," Seeger said. "In my letter (to Westinghouse) I characterized him as being on a post-doctoral level and I treat him that way."

More than 1,200 high school students from across the nation competed in this year's talent search. Forty were invited to Washington for tours and interviews with some of the nation's top scientists. The winners were announced last week.

"I was shocked," Feig said. "I wasn't expecting to win anything. I thought I had done very poorly in the interviews . . . I wasn't able to answer many of the questions. I told them so bluntly. I guess they liked that."

Feig said he was questioned by a panel of scientists. One mathematics professor asked him why a doughnut is like a tea cup.

"I said a doughnut has a hole and a tea cup has a hole through the handle," he said.

"I'm thrilled for Andrew," said pediatrician Steven Feig, Andrew's father. "One of the nice things about the talent search is that the focus is on him." Parents were not invited to accompany their children to Washington, the senior Feig said, adding, "they wanted the children to be on their own to shine in their own light. And he has."

The younger Feig's interest in science dates to when he was a little boy, "collecting everything from frogs to flowers," his father said.

The youth later worked in his father's office before going to work for Seeger through an intern program at University High.

Feig, who doesn't watch much television because "there is not much on anyway," spends some of his spare time collecting buttons with scientific slogans. A favorite reads: "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate."

"It's a chemistry pun," Feig said with a laugh.

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