Future STEM leaders will compete for $1.8 million in awards including top prize of $250,000
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, January 24, 2020 – In an eagerly-awaited announcement Wednesday afternoon, it was revealed that nine of the 40 finalists, nearly 23 percent, in the highly acclaimed Regeneron Science Talent Search (Regeneron STS) competition are teens of Indian-origin. It’s a noteworthy figure when one considers that Indian-Americans as a whole comprise about one percent of the US population.
The 40 budding scientists will be heading to the nation’s capital where, over the course of a week from March 5-11, they will present their innovative research projects to eminent judges, compete for more than $1.8 million in awards, interact with renowned scientists, meet with members of Congress, and display their work to the public on March 8 at The Showroom in the spacious Franklin Court office building. Winners of the top ten prizes, ranging from $40,000 up to $250,000, will be announced March 10 at a formal awards gala in the historic National Building Museum.
The Regeneron STS is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for pre-college students drawing exceptionally qualified entrants from across the country and beyond. In the current edition, finalists hail from 35 schools in 21 states. It is interesting to note that females represent more than 50 percent of the 40 future leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), a great nod to girl power!
Earlier this month, 300 scholars were selected from a pool of 1,993 applicants from 659 high schools across 49 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam and eight countries. The semi-finalists were awarded $2,000 each in addition to their school receiving a grant of an equivalent amount.
Of these ‘Top Scholars’, 40 finalists who will receive a minimum award of $25,000 were then named and they include a large number of Indian-American teens: Jagdeep Bhatia, 17, Watchung Hills Regional High School, Warren, New Jersey; Amogh Bhatnagar, 18, University School of Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Ankush Dhawan, 18, Signature School, Evansville, Indiana; Raina Jain, 17, Greenwich High School, Greenwich, Connecticut; Anushka Jetly, 17, Friendswood High School, Friendswood, Texas; Nithin Kavi, 18, Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, Acton, Massachusetts; Caitlin Kunchur, 17, Dutch Fork High School, Irmo, South Carolina; Arjun Neervannan, 17, University High School, Irvine, California; and Rohan Wagh, 17, Sunset High School, Portland, Oregon.
Applauding the finalists from his state, Governor Phil Murphy tweeted, “Congratulations to New Jersey’s own Sonja Michaluk, Violetta Krivitsky, Anaiah Thomas, and Jagdeep Bhatia on being named finalists in #RegeneronSTS! With students like this, the future of science and innovation in New Jersey is bright”.
The Pott College of Science, Engineering and Education, University of Southern Indiana, posted on its Twitter account, “Congratulations to Ankush Dhawan who was named a Regeneron Science Talent Search Top 40 finalist! #RegeneronSTS is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Dr. Seyler and Dr. Bohrer are proud to have worked with Ankush as he did his research”.
Barry Preston Lindler, a computer science and programming teacher at Dutch Fork High School, gushed on the micro-blogging site about finalists Kunchur and Lauren Chen, “So proud of these #dfhsSTEM seniors! A privilege to work with you and so very excited to see where the future leads!”
The finalists have attempted to tackle some of the world’s compelling issues through their scientific projects such as targeting cancer via signaling pathways, combating cyberbullying by teaching Artificial Intelligence (AI), protecting beehives, and identifying an improved method for detecting arsenic in water.
The Science Talent Search, a program of the Washington-based Society for Science & the Public since 1942, was formerly known as the Intel Science Talent Search (1998-2016) and earlier was supported by Westinghouse (1942-1997). Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a leading biotechnology company headquartered in New York, became the funding source from 2017 and ever since has been giving over $3 million in awards, annually. Founded by STS alumni, the company has committed $100 million in funding over the next decade.
Throughout its 78 years, the criteria for selection in the STS has remained the same: students are chosen from across the nation for their scientific prowess and overall potential to become future leaders of the scientific community.
Alumni of the program have made extraordinary contributions to science and are recipients of over 100 of the world’s most prized honors in science and maths including 13 Nobel Prizes, 11 National Medals of Science, 5 Breakthrough Prizes, 21 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, and 2 Field Medals.
In a press statement, Dr. George Yancopoulos, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron, said, “This year’s finalists are part of the next generation of brilliant minds who – through the pursuit of science and innovation – can address many of society’s most urgent challenges and help improve our world”.
A founding scientist and Science Talent Search winner (1976), he stated, “These students are joining a community of highly talented STS alumni who have gone on to make incredible contributions to their chosen fields and our society. If one, two or even a handful of these impressive young scholars make discoveries that impact our world, that could make all the difference”.
In a press communique, Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of Society for Science & the Public, hailed the 40 finalists as “the stewards of our future”.
“These finalists are the top young scientists of our country today and they give me great hope for what lies ahead”, she said.
Regarding the research projects of the Indian-American finalists, their innovations are as follows:
– Jagdeep Bhatia: Simple and fast algorithms for interactive machine learning with random counter-examples;
– Amogh Bhatnagar: methodology demonstration of a cost effective comparison of procedures using open and laparoscopic appendectomy – total charges versus hospital stay;
– Ankush Dhawan: An improved method for trace level arsenic quantification in water;
– Raina Jain: Control of varroa destructor infestation with a dual-function thymol-emitting honey bee hive entranceway;
– Anushka Jetly: An affordable, machine learning-aided otologic diagnostic suite for automatic detection of middle ear abnormalities;
– Nithin Kavi: Cutting and glueing surfaces;
– Caitlin Kunchur: Evaluating room acoustics for speech intelligibility;
– Arjun Neervannan: Combating cyberbullying and toxicity by teaching AI to use linguistic insights from human interactions in social media; and
– Rohan Wagh: Designing a microbial fuel cell based in-situ soil conductivity monitoring system for precision agriculture and water management.
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