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Five questions with Yunseo Choi, the 1st place winner of the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search

By Aparna Paul

Photo of Yunseo Choi, the 1st place winner of the 2021 Science Talent Search
Yunseo, a recent Phillips Exeter Academy graduate, won $250,000 for a project focused on matchmaking theory. Photo courtesy of the Society for Science

This fall, Yunseo Choi, the top winner in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021 will be headed to Harvard, where she plans to major in mathematics. Though Yunseo recognizes that math is her primary passion, she says her goal in college is to explore a variety of fields and do research in a few of them. But she’s also a teenager, and is “excited to make new friends and to decorate my room with polaroid pictures, something I never thought of doing in high school!”    

The Phillips Exeter Academy graduate won $250,000 for a project focused on matchmaking theory. Shortly after her big win, Yunseo told NPR’s Morning Edition, “Essentially I studied these stable matchings, but in the context of the infinite matching market. Where instead of matching a finite set of men to another finite set of women, we’re matching an infinite number of men to an infinite number of women.” She explained that the matchmaking algorithms in her research hold many useful applications — from dating to matching organ donors with recipients or medical students to residencies.

Yunseo plans to submit her research paper to a journal in economic theory. “I am currently in the process of editing my paper, especially the introduction and the conclusion, to target economy theory enthusiasts rather than a more general audience.” She is also working on a related project, exploring how false reporting of preferences can manipulate a matching algorithm in a student’s favor.

Let’s hear more from Yunseo below!

Which sci-fi advancement do you wish we had by now?

Yunseo says she has always dreamed of playing Quidditch, a fictional sport invented by author J.K. Rowling for her series Harry Potter. “My high school, Phillips Exeter Academy, has a traditional rivalry with our “uncle” school, Phillips Academy Andover. Every year, since 1878, our athletic teams competed against each other, similar to the Harvard-Yale games. These games have been one of my favorite events in high school. Maybe soon enough, I will be screaming “Go Big Red ” at a Quidditch game or even pick up the sport myself!

Which scientist – alive or deceased – would you want to solve scientific mysteries with and why?

I want to collaborate with Nobel Economics laureate Alvin Roth, who is my grand-mentor — my STS mentor’s mentor! 

My STS project was about generalizing results from finite matching markets to infinite matching markets. To do that, I first had to learn about the properties of the finite matching market. My mentor recommended Professor Roth’s textbook that summarized the known results of matching theory in the finite market. As I was reading the book, I dreamt of writing a book like that myself one day, to introduce other students and researchers to my field of interest. 

And so, imagine my surprise when Professor Roth featured my STS project on his blog

 What would you invent if you had all the resources in the world?

I wish that we could teleport! At an individual scale, I cannot imagine how much time this would save out of everyone’s daily lives that can be allocated to taking care of oneself, spending time with family or doing better for the world. At a larger scale, with physical distance not a barrier anymore, the world can be a closer, united family with new friendships and collaborations that were not possible before! 

What was the most surprising part of having STS be a virtual event?

I was really surprised by how caring the staff were! Because I was in Korea throughout the finalist week, it was logistically challenging for the staff. The staff were so kind and caring—it was all the little details that got me! Allie told me that she had been thinking about me through the week. Marian was so patient with me preparing us up to finalist week. Gayle, Aparna, and the rest of the publicity team guided me through podcasts and other interviews that I was so grateful to be a part of. Another staff member sent me an extra medal that they had from the previous year for the Awards Ceremony, just in case my other package arrived too late, and I would be the only one without a medal! 

What was your most favorite or memorable experience from virtual STS? And why?

I was really inspired by the Regeneron Genetics Lab Tour! It fascinates me how much Regeneron is grounded in scientific research and is taking control of the entire process, from initial research to drug delivery to patients. I was also inspired by George Yancopoulos’s speech that changed my understanding of research; innovating is not about finding a faster horse, but rather, inventing a car!

Also, I heard from a few finalists this year that they were interning at Regeneron this summer, and I am looking forward to hearing about all the amazing work that they will be doing!  

Share your research for a chance to win incredible prizes and meet like-minded young leaders in science, just like Yunseo, by applying to the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022! Applications are now open.