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Tualatin student a finalist in nationwide Intel Science Talent Search

Vikul Gupta designed algorithms for secure data encryption.

COURTESY PHOTO - Vikul Gupta of Tualatin is one of 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. He will go to Washington, D.C., next week to compete for as much as $150,000.A high school senior from Tualatin is one of just 40 finalists in a national science competition.

Vikul Gupta, who attends the Oregon Episcopal School in Raleigh Hills, will be heading to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to compete onstage for as much as $150,000 in scholarship money from the Intel Science Talent Search.

“I was really excited when I found out, because I did not expect this at all,” Gupta said of being a finalist in the competition.

To earn his berth, Gupta submitted a number of essays and information about himself — “It's basically a college application,” he said — along with the piece de résistance of the competition: a 20-page research paper.

Gupta said the paper was the culmination of two years of independent research he did in the field of cryptography, otherwise known as communication security. He took on an engineering challenge: designing a cryptosystem that would secure data in a “computationally intensive” operation.

“I took that operation and designed efficient hardware ... that was 12 times more efficient than the previously used hardware,” Gupta said.

He explained his process: “First I came up with multiple algorithms that would be able to design this circuit, and then I created a program that, given the security level that you wanted, could output the design of the circuit. And then I verified that hundreds of millions of times.”

Gupta said he started his research in between his freshman and sophomore years, working with Portland State University professor Marek Perkowski, who specializes in quantum computing.

Asked whether he is considering a career in cryptography, given the knowledge he has amassed in the field during high school, Gupta was noncommittal.

“I have a pretty wide range of interests,” he said, “but this would definitely be one of them.”

Gupta will be competing for first, second or third place in one of three categories in Washington, D.C. The top winners in each category will receive a $150,000 award.

Gupta said he plans to use any money he wins toward his continuing education. He has not yet determined where he will go to college next year.

Contest winners will be announced March 15.