During finals week of the Regeneron Science Talent Search, 40 of the brightest, young scientific minds in the nation travelled to Washington D.C. to showcase their scientific projects to the public. We asked the top 10 winners a variety of questions to learn more about their projects, competition experience and plans for the future. Here is some of what top winner Ana Humphrey, 18, a high school senior from Alexandria, Virginia, had to say.
Which sci-fi advancement are you upset we don’t have by now?
It’s not exactly a sci-fi advancement, but I’ve always wanted to have a time-turner like the one Hermione has in J.K. Rowling’s The Prisoner of Azkaban. There are so many things that interest me and so many questions I want to answer that I don’t have time for them all!
Which scientist – alive or deceased – would you want to solve scientific mysteries with and why?
I would want to solve scientific mysteries with the Harvard Computers, a group of women including Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming and Henrietta Swann-Leavitt who analyzed stars at the Harvard Observatory in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These women were pioneers in science at a time when most of society thought that academia was not a place for them. Their discoveries and innovations, including the star classification system, and the relationship between stellar variability and intrinsic luminosity (a relationship that allowed astronomers to determine how far away a star is), form much of the foundation of our knowledge of astronomy and astrophysics. It would be amazing to survey the skies with them and learn even a small portion of what they knew about the stars!
What would you invent if you had all the money in the world?
If I had all the money in the world, I would invent an inexpensive and energy-efficient universal water filter. Water is the most important resource for life, yet clean water is scarce in many communities. With climate change, increasing pollution and growing populations, this scarcity will continue to worsen and will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. A universal water filter that could address pathogenic contamination, correct water chemistry and desalinate water could significantly improve water security and protect communities that are already under stress due to the lack of clean water.
What would you like to be most renowned for?
I would like to be known for unlocking the secrets of planetary systems and how they form and evolve. While we have made a lot of headway in this area, there is still a lot that we don’t know about what happens in the time between the formation of a star and the systems that we observe today. If we can learn more about the processes by which planets are formed and interact over time, we can learn a lot about why our own solar system looks the way it does and what made life on Earth possible.
What would you say in order to inspire the next generation of scientists?
Don’t be afraid to ask big questions! And, once you’ve asked questions, don’t be afraid to try to answer them! Science can be scary sometimes because it’s all about learning things that no one knows, and the unknown can be scary. However, if you let yourself be a little uncomfortable, you can learn so much about how the world around you works, and you might even make a discovery that completely changes our understanding of the world (or even universe!).
If you know amazing young scientists like Ana who are interested in entering their original research projects in the 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search sign up here.