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The Three Compu-teers : West Hills Teen-Agers Become First Trio of Siblings to Take Top Honors in Annual Science Competition

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wu and Mei Young of West Hills bought a personal computer for their sons six years ago to help the boys with their school work and enable them to play video games. But instead, the teen-agers have parlayed their fascination with bits and bytes into award-winning computer programs.

Earlier this summer, the Young boys became the first trio of siblings to win awards--including the grand prize--in the 13th annual Computer Science Competition sponsored by Rockwell International Corp. and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The eldest brother, Ken Young, 18, won the $2,000 grand prize for designing an original computer program called Cardiac Fitness Monitor. It takes measurements normally recorded by such instruments as a sphygmomanometer--used to measure arterial blood pressure--a stethoscope and a stress meter.

Young, whose other hobbies include playing basketball and the piano, said he designed the program after realizing that heart disease is a major cause of death among adults in industrialized nations. He said he wanted to create something that would make it easier for people to monitor their heart conditions.

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“It is rewarding to create and complete something that can be beneficial to our society,” said Young, who noted that it took nearly 12 months to complete the program. Later this month he will begin attending UC Berkeley, where he plans to study either computer engineering or electrical engineering.

This was the fourth time that he had entered the competition, capturing a first-place award once and two second-place finishes. He will use this year’s cash award to help pay college expenses and used previous winnings to prepare for the next year’s competition.

Twins Ben and Ted Young, 16, who say they were influenced by their older brother’s interest in computers, won the $1,000 first-place award for a computer-aided surveillance system that detects fires and intruders with sensors.

The twins said the advanced home-security system was the best of several ideas from a brainstorming session one afternoon. They said they consider designing computer programs a hobby and have not yet decided whether they will enter the contest next year.

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Ken Young graduated from Chatsworth High School near his home. The twins opted to be bused to Van Nuys High School to be part of the school’s math-science magnet program.

“We get up at 6 in the morning to catch the bus to school,” said Ben, who along with his brother will be a junior this fall.

“But we like the school,” Ted added.

The twins, who both play clarinet in the school’s marching band, said they are not yet sure what they will study in college, but it will probably be computer-related.

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The boys said their interest in computers may stem from their early schooling in Taiwan, where math and science are heavily emphasized. The family moved to the San Fernando Valley from Taiwan in 1983, primarily to provide the children with a better education, according to the parents.

The boys’ mother said designing computer programs was not necessarily part of the plan.

“We never pushed them to learn about computers,” she said. “But their father always told them the computer was not just for games. We’re very proud of them.”

The boys credit their success to supportive and encouraging parents.

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“After all, it was my parents who got us the computer,” Ken Young said. “They could have just gotten us a Nintendo like a lot of other parents give their kids.”

Ed Kojaku, a Rockwell manager and a judge in the competition for the past three years, said this is the first time that three brothers have won awards in the competition. Kojaku said the level of sophistication of the projects continues to surprise him.

“I was absolutely amazed at what some of these kids can do,” he said.

Rockwell and the school district organize the competition to honor students involved in computer- and science-related subjects and to encourage others to become involved in creating their own technically oriented projects.

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