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Thomas Jefferson High School For Science And Technology Breeds Young Innovators

New ideas, new markets, new insights—innovation takes many forms. Look around and you'll find it all over the U.S.A.

Thomas Jefferson High School For Science And Technology Breeds Young Innovators
Photo by Saverio Truglia

Thomas Jefferson High School, Alexandria, Virginia

Year after year, the students of Thomas Jefferson High have ranked among the country's best in prestigious academic contests like Intel's annual Science Talent Search. In 2012, the school had 11 Intel semifinalists—clockwise from top left, Arjun Srinivasan, Rithvik Prasannappa, Nicolas Arango, Yuqing Zhang, Mary Sun, Pranava Raparla, Anjali Taneja, Tushar Kamath, Veronica Peterkin, Darwin Li, and Edward Danyliw—more than any other in the nation. What's the secret? As chemistry teacher Brian Kennedy sees it, there isn't one. Young people just like to learn. "It's very easy to get students excited about learning just for the sake of learning something new and something advanced," he says. This year's award-winning research included projects exploring flu-drug resistance and circuitry made of graphene, which is more versatile than the traditional silicon. But Thomas Jefferson High's top-notch program wasn't built only on the enthusiasm of young brainiacs and the sweat of strong teachers who believe innovation can and must start early. The school has also nurtured collaborations with universities and science-based corporations. "Companies in America need to be more involved in working with younger populations," Kennedy says. "That's an important part of what's missing in general in education."

A version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.