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Happy Hunting!: STS 2020 finalists go on #GEOCACHING Adventure

By Aparna Paul

STS finalist, Ankush
STS finalist, Ankush Dhawan, finds a geocache to claim his prize in Newburgh, Indiana Photo courtesy of Ankush Dhawan

Does finding a lost treasure sound appealing to you? How about the centuries-old scavenger hunt of letterboxing? Well, then geocaching may be worth checking out!

This past weekend, during finals week, Regeneron STS 2020 finalists had a chance to experience the adventurous activity firsthand. Geocaching is a contemporary version of a treasure hunt that can be done from any place in the world. A game that first came to be in May 2000, geo refers to the global nature of the game and cache is a French word that is defined as a hiding place to store objects. All that’s required is a bit of sunscreen and bug spray, comfortable sneakers, a fully-charged smartphone, a GPS enabled system or the Geocaching app, and you’re ready to search for hidden objects rather than following a soot-covered pirate map!

Amid the pandemic, Society staff got creative and curated the game for finalists with the help of finalists’ families, friends, teachers and mentors, who hid containers of varying sizes within walking distance (2-3 miles) of each finalist’s home. In order to find the “treasures,” they followed sets of coordinates using a GPS. First, the students had two puzzles they had to solve as a group in order to receive their first set of coordinates. Then they each moved through three stages, where they were given a description of the geocache, GPS coordinates, container size and a helpful hint. The activity gave students the opportunity to partake in a shared bonding experience, while having fun and getting outdoors!

Below hear from the finalists about their experience and check out some photos of them finding geocaches right near their homes!

“I went geocaching with my brother when we were both in middle school, and it was a lot of fun. At the Science Talent Search geocaching adventure, I revisited geocaching and it was a blast to bike around my town with my family searching for tiny boxes and bottles hidden in bushes, inside trees and even in my home garden. My dad didn’t let me water our plants in the morning because my final item was hidden beneath our tomato plant!” – Ankush Dhawan

Annie Ostojic
STS finalists, Annie Ostojic, finds a geocache in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia Photo courtesy of Annie Ostojic

“Honestly it was hard. I feel like cars driving by probably thought I was crazy. My last clue was also challenging. It was on a light post but it looked like a metal screw-in part but was actually just a magnetic hidden container. So much fun and super challenging!” – Annie Ostojic

STS finalist, Ella Wesson, finds a geocache in Manhasset, New York
STS finalist, Ella Wesson, finds a geocache in Manhasset, New York Photo courtesy of Ella Wesson

“My parents hid fake rocks all around my town with little notes inside. They even placed one in a garden with lots of real rocks around it, so I had to check through all of them to see which was the fake one that held the clue! It was really nice that I was able to get outside of the house for a while.” – Ella Wesson

STS finalist, Zander Hill
STS finalist, Zander Hill, finds a geocache in Tempe, Arizona!

“I’ve never really been geocaching before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it was very cool being able to find such a small object in such a large area by slowly narrowing down the exact location. Due to the weather in Arizona during July, just being outside for that long was pretty challenging. I’d do it again if I lived somewhere else or if it were during a cooler season.”- Zander Hill

Jagdeep Bhatia, STS finalist, finds geocache in Green Brook, New Jersey
Jagdeep Bhatia, STS finalist, finds geocache in Green Brook, New Jersey Photo courtesy of Jagdeep Bhatia

“It was a lot of fun! It was great to get outside after judging and exciting to solve puzzles with the other finalists and see what my friends and family had hidden around town.” – Jagdeep Bhatia

Ellie Yang
STS finalist, Ellie Yang, finds a geocache by her home in Chesterfield, Missouri Photo courtesy of Ellie Yang

“I’d gone geocaching once or twice before, but I’m not sure I would consider them “real geocaching” – this weekend was my first time experiencing the whole process. I had a great time trying to figure out the puzzles, following the coordinates, and finally finding the caches outside. As I explored the park near my house, I was reminded of the nature and trails there, and I remembered the fun I had there when I was younger. I’m so thankful that I got to take this fun adventure, and I am grateful for everyone who planned and made it possible!” – Ellie Yang

Lillian Peterson
Lillian Petersen finds a geocache in Los Alamos, New Mexico
Photo courtesy of Lillian Peterson

“It was fun to find the clues in unexpected places, such as in a cave you can only get to after scrambling up a ravine for half an hour. I am glad my family was with me due to the abundance of fresh bear scat!” -Lillian Petersen