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Oregonian: Portland teen Andy Trattner, tops in Oregon at chess, Spanish, robotics, lends talent to NASA
Author: Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian
Posted: May 14, 2014

Read the original article at The Oregonain.

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Lincoln High senior Andy Tratter was named Oregon's male Presidential Scholar. He is outstanding at math, science, engineering, robotics, Spanish, poetry recitation, writing and peer tutoring, among other skills.

Last summer, yielding to a teenage urge to take risks, Portland's Andy Trattner finagled his way into something he wasn't supposed to.

It was no high school prank, though. Trattner talked his way onto to an elite research team at Portland State University -- and the next thing he and his boss knew, the teen was operating research mechanisms on the International Space Station for NASA.

"He executed tens of thousands of commands," says that boss, PSU mechanical engineering professor Mark Weislogel, a NASA veteran. "You should have seen him doing it. It was so cool." Although the team was mainly graduate students, Trattner "was teaching some of the others and sometimes commanding the pack," Weislogel says.

No high school student can expect to sit at the helm of a Space Station experiment, even briefly, but Trattner, now a senior at Lincoln High, is accustomed to running at the head of the pack.

His extraordinary accomplishments across many disciplines help explain why he was chosen as Oregon's male Presidential Scholar this year, a White House honor that marks him as the best of the best among high school scholars and leaders in the state.

His unwillingness to admire his shiny test scores and titles, but instead to strive to do good, help make him a truly standout scholar and human, says Melinda Gale, his history and Spanish teacher.

"He is brilliant," Gale says. "But what impresses me most is how he uses that intelligence. He knows that being smart isn't enough to leave a legacy. He's interested in helping other people or changing the world."

"He is a kind kid, extremely so. He's got a servant's heart," Weislogel agrees.

There is no arguing that Trattner is extremely good at a lot of things: He is the top-ranked chess player in Oregon's high school class of 2014. He was a member of the school robotics team that went to the state championships last year. He was accepted early to both Cal Tech and MIT and will attend MIT in the fall.

Before you peg him as a math and science nerd, however, note that he registered the top score in Oregon on the National Spanish Exam among fourth-year Spanish students last year. And that he tied for first place in Lincoln's Poetry Out Loud competition.

The best classes he's taken at Lincoln, he says, are his International Baccalaureate literature courses. He is currently performing as the beleaguered "Steve" in the Lincoln production of "Almost Maine" that runs through Saturday.

He is also devoted to tutoring fellow students, particularly native Spanish speakers who need help with science concepts and vocabulary. "It's nice to see people who need help get it and learn science they would not otherwise be learning," he says.

Still, math and engineering are his strong suits.

As a boy, he was obsessed with Legos and hoped to become a real-life Q who could build gadgets like the ones Q created for James Bond.

By the time Trattner arrived at Lincoln as a junior, having transferred from Wisconsin, he had already exhausted all the math Lincoln offers, including college-level calculus and statistics. So he polished off multivariable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra and proof-based analysis at PSU that year.

Another PSU connection exposed him to the university's engineering facilities – and instantly, he wanted to start using them. Only 16, he begged a Ph.D.-credentialed researcher to let him help with a summer project researching fluid dynamics usingPSU's attention-getting six-story drop tower. He said yes.

Weislogel.jpgView full sizePortland State engineering professor Mark Weislogel calls Trattner "a learning machine." 

But he was away the week work began. Improbably, Weislogel, his supervising professor, noticed that day that his NASA-funded team was short one member. Trattner asked to step inand got another yes.

"I was really lucky," Trattner says. "I was the youngest person on the team and they did not plan to have me there. I just snuck in."

Trattner downplays his role, saying he did some "basic programming" and was "a data collection monkey."

But Weislogel says he and the team were the lucky ones. Their research into separating gasses and liquids in zero gravity benefits from rare access to two weeks of round-the-clock opportunity to manipulate mechanisms on the Space Station and harvest data from those trials. Trattner's speed and knack for coding helped the team maximize its yield, Weislogel says.

"He is performing with the IQ of a grad student already," he says.

The teen is also a gifted technical writer and editor. He will be a credited co-author on the paper Weislogel is about to submit to NASA. Weislogel expects it to be published in the most prestigious publication in the field, The Journal of Fluid Mechanics.

"He is a learning machine. When he sees that there is a better way to do something, he just goes and learns it," Weislogel says. "What is stopping someone like that? Whatever he wants to learn, he is going to learn."