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U.S.'s oldest high school science and mathematics competition finds promising young scientists

Regeneron
Posted at 9:09 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-01 08:35:43-04

Noah Getz, Yunseo Choi, and Eshani Jha beat out more than 1,700 kids from all over the country for the top three spots in one of the toughest science competitions around.

Regeneron Science Talent Search is the oldest high school science and mathematics competition the United States,” Society for Science President Maya Ajmera said.

Ajmera says narrowing down hundreds of young researchers to the top three winners is quite an intense process.

“And what’s interesting about the interview process – it’s not about their projects – it’s about general knowledge and creativity and ingenuity in science and engineering in general,” Ajmera said.

Third place went to Jha – who developed a biochar filtration system, which removes microplastics, pesticides and heavy metals from drinking water. She says a trip to India inspired her research.

“I visited the slums in my home state of Bihar, and I saw these people with puckered skin or missing limbs,” Jha said.

Her family told her it was because the water they were drinking was polluted.

“I started thinking about, ‘well, what can we do to make water filtration efficient, sustainable, affordable, accessible,' and my project just kind of grew from there,’” Jha said.

Getz got in second place. He adjusted the way computer models identify promising pharmaceutical compounds which could make the discovery of new drugs faster and less expensive. Getz says his love for programming started in middle school.

“I sort of wholeheartedly threw myself into computer science and started coming back week, after week, after week, super eager to learn more,” Getz said.

Choi took home the top prize in the competition by using math to play matchmaker.

She took algorithms used for dating apps that typically only work for a limited number of people and created other algorithms that work for an infinite number of pairs.

“Matching happens everywhere," Choi said. "For example, matching students to schools in public school systems in New York City and Boston, matching doctors for residencies, or cadets to branches of the military.”

All three winners say they appreciate that the competition made them feel like experts in their field.

“In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter at what age you’re doing research because as long as you’re taking steps forward, other people can then build on that to progress in that field,” Jha said.

They say the competition itself was really rewarding and placing in the top three is a moment they’ll likely never forget.

“My friends took so many screenshots of my face, of my gaping-open mouth,” Getz said.

“In saw my face on the screen, I was like ‘oh my gosh, it’s really me,’” Jha said.

“I remember, as a fidgeting tool, I was holding onto one of the shakers – I don’t know what they’re called – and then once they called out my name, I didn’t know what to do except just shake it,” Choi said.

Who knows where these young researchers will be decades from now – but it’s clear their hard work, motivation and innovation could have a great impact on the world.

“Really investing in this next generation of leadership just pays dividends for the future,” Ajmera said.