Neil Maitra's father, Santanu, said an affinity for science runs in the family: seven of Neil's relatives are chemists, including both his parents.
It's no wonder, then, that Neil has that same type of scientific curiosity: the eighth-grader is a national Science Bowl award winner, an accomplished First Lego League competitor and was a national finalist for a video competition where he dressed up in a white wig to star as Sir Isaac Newton, one of his heroes.
"Science makes me learn a lot about the world and I like to know things," Neil said.
Maitra said there are days when he can imagine his son in a career as an artist — other days, as an astrophysicist. When he was in elementary school, Neil would spend hours drawing imaginary airplanes with "perfect geometry," said Maitra. As he's grown older, Neil has taken an interest in computer-aided design and engineering.
"I think we should just let him blossom and see where he goes," Maitra said.
Marty Dunlap, Neil's technical drawing and design teacher, said he's always ahead in class and has an "innate talent" for design.
"From my perspective, he just loves it," she said. "There are kids who love their video games. For him, it's designing, creating, problem-solving, engineering."
School: Edison Computech Middle
Parents: Santanu and Kalyani Maitra
Kaleb Roth, 14, Madera
School: Ranchos Middle School
Parents: Karl and Shellie Roth
Achievements: Kaleb is known for his giving spirit: the 4.0-GPA student has traveled as far as Mexico and Guatemala on mission trips to help build and repair churches, teach Bible school and start a soccer club for youngsters. He's also involved in school, where he currently serves as the student body president. He's a member of the Destination Imagination and Academic Pentathlon teams and stays active on both the football and basketball teams.
Julia Leann Galvan, 14, Tulare
School: Live Oak Middle School
Parents: Nick and Stacy Galvan
Achievements: Julia has a 4.5 GPA: not bad for a student who's constantly volunteering at her church, playing in the school band and starring in local theater productions. Julia's math teacher Don Pedersen said she's mature for an eighth-grader and gets along with students and adults alike. "She's an extremely high achiever and she gets an A+ anytime we do anything," he said.
Kevin Gaxiola, 13, Fresno
School: Tehipite Middle School
Parents: Juan Navarro and Flora Gaxiola
Achievements: When Kevin attends Roosevelt High next year, he'll already have about 30 high school credits under his belt. The 3.8-GPA eighth-grader has already completed several high school-level courses, including algebra, geometry and Spanish. Kevin plays football, soccer and volleyball, tutors and assists the elderly.