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Reaching for the stars, teen snags asteroid

DULUTH - Mayank Tahilramani never imagined an asteroid would bear his name.

"Never in my dreams," the Peachtree Ridge High School senior said.

Fewer than 15,000 people share the honor of having a minor planet named for them. Those who discover one of the celestial bodies can propose a name, which must be approved by the 13-member, international Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature.

But Tahilramani didn't discover an asteroid. He placed second in an international science competition. Part of the prize was having a minor planet named in his honor.

A partnership between the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the Society for Science & the Public honors students in fifth through 12th grades and their teachers by naming minor planets after them. The Ceres Connection program, designed to promote science education, selects recipients for the honor through the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge, Intel Science Talent Search, and Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. All minor planets named in the Ceres

Connection program have been discovered by LINEAR, the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research Program.

As of January 2008, orbits have been determined for 393,298 minor planets, according to the MIT Lincoln Laboratory's Web site. Of these, 171,475 have been numbered, and 14,226 have been named. The majority of these planets are main-belt asteroids residing between Mars and Jupiter. However, 5,038 are near-Earth asteroids.

Tahilramani actually started last year's science project with low expectations. Coupling his passion for science with his love for acoustics, he decided to test the absorption of antibiotics by ultrasound radiation. He found the introduction of the ultrasound had a profound effect on enhancing antibiotic efficiencies.

"I did it out of pure passion," he said of the project. "Whether it was luck or actual ingenuity that got me to Intel (the international competition), I don't know."

The project, which took eight months to complete, made it to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nev. Tahilramani's second-place win also earned him a $1,500 prize, which he invested in his current science project - developing a program to apply fractal geometric sequencing and projection to identify cancerous growth.

Tahilramani, the son of Hari and Rekha Tahilramani, moved to Gwinnett County from India when he was 5. He said he finds working on science projects "fascinating."

"It feeds my curiosity," he said. "If you have a passion for finding things out, it's the only way to do so."