Vietnamese student who got US visa at 11th hour bags third prize at Intel science fair

Eleventh grader Pham Huy won the third award of the Robotics and Intelligent Machines category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2017

Pham Huy at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2017

A Vietnamese student who got a last-minute visa to travel to the U.S. for an international science fair after having his application rejected twice, has won the event's third prize.

Eleventh grader Pham Huy was one of the four winners of the third award of the Robotics and Intelligent Machines category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2017 (ISEF 2017), the organizers announced early today, May 20.

The student, hailing from the central province of Quang Tri, won the US$1,000 prize, granted as part of the Grand Awards of the science fair, with his prosthetic arm controlled by legs’ transmitter for disabled people.

On Friday, Huy also won the third prize of $400 as part of the Special Awards granted by IEEE Foundation, the world's largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.

The ISEF 2017 is held by the Society for Science & the Public, in partnership with the Intel Foundation. Ninth to twelfth graders around the world have earned the right to compete at the fair in Los Angeles, California by winning a top prize at a local, regional, state or national science fair in their own country.

Huy won the Vietnam’s national science contest with his robotic arm aimed at providing the disabled with a more affordable alternative to prosthetics and was among the Vietnamese students selected by the Ministry of Education and Training to represent the Southeast Asian country at ISEF 2017.

However, the young Vietnamese had almost missed the chance to attend the science fair as his visa application was rejected twice by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

Huy last application was approved when it was only hours away from his flight departure for the U.S., following a series of articles on Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that called for support to have the young talent attend the Intel event.

Vietnam has eight students at the ISEF 2017, with Huy taking home the highest award among his peers. Team Vietnam also bagged four fourth awards, worth $500 each, of the event’s Grand Awards.

The Gordon E. Moore Award, the science fair’s top award worth $75,000, went to Germany’s Ivo Zell with the project called “an improved flying wing based on a bell-shaped lift distribution.”

Passing through narrow gate

Speaking to Tuoi Tre on the phone, Huy said the award winning left him totally flabbergasted as there were as many as 1,700 students from 70 countries and territories competing at the event.

The Vietnamese said he did not expect to win over major projects from such countries with advanced science and technology as the U.S., Germany or Japan.

But had it not been for Tuoi Tre’s timely intervention, he would have had to stay at home instead of stepping onto the podium to claim the prize, he said.

The students asked Tuoi Tre to extend his sincere thank to those who have silently helped him to “pass through the narrow gate” to the fair.

The boy’s father, Pham Xuan Dinh, had watched his son through a Facebook livestream video and could not sleep that night after knowing Huy would go home with the third prize.

“No word could describe how happy I feel at the moment,” the father told Tuoi Tre.

Another Quang Tri student who is studying in California has pledged to support Huy once he arrived in the U.S., and a Vietnamese-American woman has also gifted him a sweater shortly after his arrival.

“Thanks to all these sharing and support that I have made it to be an award winner,” Huy said.

Team Vietnam is scheduled to leave the U.S. for home in the middle of next week.

Pham Huy and his father
Pham Huy and his father

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