From Ballet to Graffiti: 10 STS finalists and how they embrace the arts - Society for Science Skip to content

From Ballet to Graffiti: 10 STS finalists and how they embrace the arts

By Aparna K. Paul

2024 Science Talent Search finalist Alexandra Mahajan
Alexandra Mahajan

Every year, we know that the top 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search demonstrate their excellence in science and engineering, but something else we see is that many of these students also show a strong passion for the arts. From intricate designs to unique collections, graceful performances to creative arrangements, and melodic compositions to compelling storytelling, the finalists this year beautifully show the integration of science and creativity. Below read about the specific artistic endeavors of the 2024 STS class.

Maryam Abdel-Azim
Central Bucks High School East (Doylestown, Pennsylvania)

Maryam is captivated by the ancient art of henna, commonly referred to as Mehendi. “I find joy in the patterns of henna,” she says. “While I struggle with drawing a self-portrait, I confidently embrace my identity as an artist when it comes to henna. My artistic endeavors extend beyond mere drawings; I actively craft unique and intricate designs; my room and backpack are adorned with random papers and tissues showcasing my henna creations. A comprehensive album on my phone documents the multitude of henna designs I’ve crafted for friends, family and members of my community.”

Arnav Chakravarthy
Homestead High School (Cupertino, California)

Arnav has a distinctive, visual and artistic way of commemorating special moments in his life. Instead of traditional mementos , Arnav collects root beer bottles and cans, labeling each one with a date and the specific occasion it represents. “From birthdays to the successful closure of a fundraising round, having a root beer on hand allows me to create a physical memento that encapsulates the moment’s joy.” For Arnav, these bottles and cans serve as more than just beverages; they become physical markers of key moments in his life. One day he envisions a shelf adorned with these humble yet meaningful tokens—a visual reminder of his journey, filled with moments worth savoring.

Sophie D’Halleweyn
Bronx High School of Science (Bronx, New York)

Sophie D’Halleweyn: STS 2024 finalist and an accomplished ballerina
Sophie D’Halleweyn: STS 2024 finalist and an accomplished ballerina Sophie D’Halleweyn

Among this year’s STS finalists was a senior ballerina, Sophie D’Halleweyn, who had an impressive 13-year journey in dance. Sophie shared that as a young scientist, ballet wasn’t just a passion but also added balance to her life. She described it as meditative practice that made her feel grounded, instilling discipline and grace. “I’m classically trained in the Vaganova technique,” she shares, “internationally recognized as the most demanding form of ballet. I’ve been doing ballet at my current studio since I was eight.” For two original dance productions, Sophie co-wrote, choreographed, directed, and starred in ballets. She is also an award-winning poet, whose work has been published in the City College Poetry Awards Anthology.

Vincent Huang
Syosset High School (Syosset, New York)

Vincent is the the chief designer and founder of his very own fashion street wear brand, Variante Alta.” His brand’s spirited mantra, “Inspired by the timeless pursuit of speed,” is rooted in the heritage of Formula One. Variante Alta is a dynamic expression of Vincent’s creative vision for street fashion. “Variante Alta is inspired by the heritage and history of Formula One. So far, the brand has raised $1,000 (all profits) for Urban Youth Racing School, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia that educates and exposes disadvantaged inner-city children to STEM and motor racing.” Through Variante Alta, Vincent is channeling his passion for speed into a force for good; it’s about driving change in the community and inspiring the next generation.

Natasha Kulviwat
Jericho High School (Jericho, New York)

Beyond being a math and science enthusiast, Natasha is also a self-proclaimed music lover. She plays seven instruments—including the piano, violin, viola, ukulele, guitar and even a couple Thai instruments—one called Thai khim and the other Thai saw. “After a long day, you can find me curled up in fluffy blankets reprising songs and entertaining my unofficial pet raccoon, Pompom, (though, regrettably, my parents don’t allow him in the house) to my impromptu performances. The high-pitch plucking in the middle of the night isn’t a cat…it’s me.” Natasha’s currently in her singer/songwriter phase and is just keeping busy channeling her creativity.

Alexis Li
Hamilton High School (Chandler, Arizona)

Inspired by the animation and social messages in Studio Ghibli films like “Spirited Away,” Alexis has begun creating short, animated films herself. Reflecting on her childhood, Alexis says, “Revisiting these films during COVID-19, I noticed director Miyazaki’s portrayal of class divides without a single word.” While humbly acknowledging her work’s distance from Miyazaki’s mastery, Alexis’s animations explore diverse topics from colonization to feminism. Since 1985, Studio Ghibli has left an indelible mark on animation history with twenty-two feature-length films. Notably, “Spirited Away,” released in 2001, stands as Japan’s highest-grossing film of all time, earning over 30 billion yen. With a glimmer of ambition, Alexis dreams aloud saying, “Maybe one day, I’ll craft my own ‘Spirited Away.'”

Alexandra Mahajan
Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

In her leisure time, Alexandra engages in many creative pursuits. She writes, records, and produces music, using her cello as a key instrument in her pop compositions. Having begun playing the cello at the age of five, she has played in numerous venues in the Greater Boston area, including performing at the New England Conservatory. Beyond her musical endeavors, Alexandra channels her creativity into ethical graffiti art, leaving her mark on the vibrant walls of Graffiti Alley in Central Square, Cambridge—her hometown (legally, of course). She also sells T-shirts that she designs herself, explaining, “I have worked on creating a brand called Lumpy Squid. I designed and sold a few T-shirts with a character I created (Lumpy Squid) to promote ocean conservation.”

Riya Tyagi
Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter, New Hampshire)

Riya’s interest in origami began in the second grade, when she would fold tons of ninja stars with her friends. At the time she wanted to be a ninja! It is a form of self-expression that has long resonated with her. Nowadays, Riya designs her own folds. “Origami—it’s both mind and hand for me. I love the process of visualizing a model geometrically, then adding creases to bring the paper to life. Origami often takes me down fascinating intellectual tangents, from tessellations to kusudama (sphere-like origami). More than this, origami is my self-expression. For over a decade, I’ve folded my dreams—from second-grade ninja stars because I wanted to be a ninja, to origami wildlife today because I want to work with nature.”

Michelle Wei
The Harker School (San Jose, California)

Once a classically trained pianist, Michelle has recently explored new routes of musical expression. Michelle explains that she “no longer plays Mozart, Beethoven or Chopin. I’ve retired from the classics.” Instead, as her fingers meander across the piano keys, they convert familiar pop-rock tunes, such as Disney songs with her brother and Taylor Swift, into melodies made for the piano. Michelle finds solace in playing and singing, sometimes layering recordings of her voice to create new harmonies and adding playful “Oh-yeah!” refrains in the background. In Michelle’s musical world, classical traditions seamlessly blend with contemporary creativity. She playfully remarks, “Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news!”

Selina Zhang
North Hunterdon High School (Annandale, New Jersey)

STS 2024 finalist, Selina Zhang created her own comic book character based on her scientific research on the invasive lanternfly.
STS 2024 finalist, Selina Zhang created her own comic book character based on her scientific research on the invasive lanternfly. Society for Science

Selina’s research project focuses on the invasive lanternfly species, which served as the inspiration for the protagonist in her latest comic book. Expressing her enthusiasm, Selina shares, “I particularly love crafting comics! I find joy in weaving compelling stories that connect readers with unique characters.” Among her creations, one standout character is the diabolical despot Ly C Delicatula. Selina fondly recounts, “My favorite part of the design process was fashioning the character’s very colorful long sleeves, giving them a diabolical and overbearing appearance.” She adds, “Ly’s weapon of choice is a proboscis-like sword, mirroring the real-world feeding mechanism of the bug on which the character is based, drawing nutrients from various plants.” Selina also loves to cook dishes such as crepe cakes, Kung Pao Chicken, and dumplings. Using her artistic eye, she enjoys crafting aesthetic beverage fusions, concocting tasty flavor and texture combinations.


Aparna Paul