2020 Regeneron STS Finalists

Society for Science & the Public (the Society) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. congratulate the 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2020, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. The 2020 finalists were selected from 1,993 highly qualified entrants based on their projects’ scientific rigor and their potential to become world-changing scientists and leaders. Each finalist is awarded at least $25,000, and the top 10 awards range from $40,000 to $250,000.


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The 2020 Regeneron STS Finalists

First Place: Lillian Petersen

Award Value: $250,000
School: Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos, NM
Project Title: Real-Time Prediction of Crop Yields from MODIS Relative Vegetation Health: A Continent-Wide Analysis of Africa

Lillian Kay Petersen, 17, of Los Alamos, N.M., devised a simple tool for predicting harvests early in the growing season that could improve food distribution planning. She first validated her tool, which analyzes daily satellite imagery using accepted measures of vegetation health, on known domestic crop data. She then tested it for countries in Africa and successfully predicted harvests with high accuracy against reported yields.

Second Place Winner: Jagdeep Bhatia

Award Value: $175,000
School: Watchung Hills Regional High School, Warren, NJ
Project Title: Simple and Fast Algorithms for Interactive Machine Learning with Random Counter-Examples

Jagdeep Bhatia, 17, of Green Brook, New Jersey, developed two fast and simple machine learning algorithms for computer programs that are attempting to learn new concepts under the tutelage of an instructor, either a computer or human. His algorithms do not only ask random questions but, like a savvy detective, ask just the right ones. His AI algorithms could help train robots and other automated devices faster and easier.

Third Place: Brendan Crotty

Award Value: $150,000
School: Hickory Hill Academy Homeschool, Muskogee, OK
Project Title: An Innovative Hybrid Diffusion Burner Design for NOx Reduction in High Temperature Applications Year Three of an Ongoing Study

Brendan Joseph Crotty, 17, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, designed and built an efficient hybrid gas burner that could help reduce the ecological impact of industries like power generation and materials manufacturing. His specialized burner system operates at higher temperatures than current industrial burners yet emits 19 percent less polluting nitrogen dioxide gas. To build his model, Brendan had to become proficient in computer design software, metal casting and machining.

Fourth Place: Rupert Li

Award Value: $100,000
School: Jesuit High School, Portland, OR
Project Title: Compatible Recurrent Identities of the Sandpile Group and Maximal Stable Configurations

Rupert Michael Li, 17, of Portland, Oregon, submitted a math theory project that resolved an abstract algebra question concerning the “abelian sandpile model” to explore the underlying algebraic structure of a group. His creative approach to a specific type of mathematical model defined on graphs suggests a new approach that other mathematicians studying similar problems may find useful.

Fifth Place: Anaiah Thomas

Award Value: $90,000
School: Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, NJ
Project Title: The Manipulation of Natural Killer Cell Phenotype and Function using Sacromal Fibroblast-Like Synoviocytes in vitro.

Anaiah Bre Thomas, 18, of Teaneck, N.J., investigated how the natural killer (NK) immune cells, CD56bright and CD56dim, are influenced by cancer cells, research that could one day lead to new cancer therapies. CD56bright NK cells stop CD56dim NK cells from attacking healthy tissue. When Anaiah cultured these NK cells together with cancer-derived fibroblast cells that can stimulate changes in their function, she found that NK cells can switch type based on their microenvironment.

Sixth Place: Katherine St George

Award Value: $80,000
School: John F. Kennedy High School, Bellmore, NY
Project Title: The Ketogenic Diet Ameliorates The Effects of Caffeine in Seizure Susceptible Drosophila melanogaster

Katherine June St George, 17, of Merrick, New York, studied the impact of diet and caffeine on seizures using fruit flies. A high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet can lessen seizures caused by imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, while caffeine can increase them. Katherine fed her fruit flies different diets and exposed them to caffeine. She observed that flies fed a ketogenic diet were not as susceptible to caffeine-induced seizures, which may inform diet counseling for human seizure patients.

Seventh Place: Alek Westover

Award Value: $70,000
School: Belmont High School, Belmont, MA
Project Title: Cache-Efficient Parallel-Partition Algorithms using Exclusive-Read-and-Write Memory

Alek Michael Westover, 17, of Belmont, Massachusetts, created a new parallel partition algorithm that he demonstrated can improve the speed of certain computations. He compared the performance of his algorithm to four others previously developed, and his algorithm performed better than each of them in at least one respect. Theoretical work such as this can be used to improve many computer applications, such as those that facilitate database queries, by simultaneously providing speed and robustness.

Eighth Place: Adriane Thompson

Award Value: $60,000
School: The Wellington School, Columbus, OH
Project Title: Differentially Expressed Genes from RNA-Seq Identify both RNA Polymerase IV- and Dicer-like3- Independent Regulatory Pathways in Zea mays, Verified through qPCR and Bioinformatic Analyses of Novel Gene Classes

Adriane Elizabeth Thompson, 17, of Westerville, Ohio, identified new regulatory pathways in corn plants that may help to determine growth factors and predict yields for this vital crop. By noting where levels of gene expression changed in the main pathway that uses enzymes to turn off certain genes, she deduced which genes do not need the enzyme to maintain repression, thus indicating that they use novel pathways to regulate gene expression.

Ninth Place: Rohan Wagh

Award Value: $50,000
School: Sunset High School, Portland, OR
Project Title: Designing a Microbial Fuel Cell Based In-Situ Soil Conductivity Monitoring System for Precision Agriculture and Water Management

Rohan Mahesh Wagh, 17, of Portland, Oregon, developed a bacteria-powered sensor system that can wirelessly send farmers up-to-date measurements of soil moisture and nutrient conditions, which could reduce the amount of irrigation water wasted. His design includes microbial fuel cell modules as sensors and an algorithm he wrote to interpret the data and generate a map of soil conditions. He believes his system could improve water use and increase crop yields for around $100 per acre.

Tenth Place: Arjun Neervannan

Award Value:$40,000
University High School, Irvine, CA
Project Title: Combating Cyberbullying and Toxicity by Teaching AI to Use Linguistic Insights from Human Interactions in Social Media

Arjun R Neervannan, 17, of Irvine, California, created AI software designed to identify hateful or toxic content, often a form of cyberbullying, with less bias than current programs. Algorithms with built-in biases that associate toxicity with racial, gender and other such identity terms can result in inappropriate censoring of productive discussions. Arjun believes his scalable, automated debiasing process produces a more accurate and fair AI model.

Amogh Bhatnagar

School: University School of Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Project Title: Methodology Demonstration of a Cost Effective Comparison of Procedures Using Open and Laparoscopic Appendectomy: Total Charges vs Hospital Stay

Amogh Bhatnagar, 18, of Mequon, Wisconsin, compared the cost effectiveness of laparoscopic appendectomy (LA), operations performed through tiny incisions, to open appendectomy surgeries, using a methodology that may apply to any set of options for a given surgery. Finding that LA reduces length of stay by only a half day, yet costs about $3,600 more, he projects annual savings of over $1.2 billion if open appendectomy surgeries were standard.

Andrew John Brinton

School: John F. Kennedy High School, Bellmore, NY
Project Title: Marsh Restoration: Ribbed Mussels (Geukensia demissa) as a Revival Mechanism to Rebuild the Coastal Salt Marshes of Long Island, New York

Andrew John Brinton, 17, of Merrick, New York, studied the ecology of coastal marshes that act as natural barriers to storm surges. Based on his observations, he suggested that efforts begin to seed Long Island’s rapidly eroding wetlands with ribbed mussels, which appear to work in synergy with saltwater cordgrass in healthy marshes. His work may help prevent further loss of these critical land-sea barriers.

Cynthia Chen

School: The Harker School, San Jose, CA
Project Title: Decoding Neural Networks: Discovery of Anti-Tumor B Cell Receptor Motifs Using a Novel Sequence-Based Computational Framework

Cynthia Chen, 17, of Cupertino, California, developed a novel computational pipeline that decodes deep neural networks used for cancer prediction, leading to wider acceptance of artificial intelligence in research. Her framework used a series of algorithms to identify hidden sequence patterns in deep neural networks trained on real-world cancer data. Applying her system, Cynthia discovered and validated 65 anti-tumor B cell receptor motif signatures of 13 common cancer types.

Lauren Chen

School: Dutch Fork High School, Irmo, SC
Project Title: Serum miR-134 Predicts and Potentially Promotes Breast Cancer Recurrence

Lauren Yuqing Chen, 16, of Irmo, South Carolina, explored the role of microRNA molecules in predicting, and possibly promoting, breast cancer recurrence. Her study of serum samples from both recurrent and non-recurrent breast cancer patients revealed a molecule that correlated to tumor recurrence and changed the functionality of certain immune cells from tumor fighting to tumor promoting.

Holly Cheng

School: Horace Greeley High School, Chappaqua, NY
Project Title: Modulating Fetal Globin Levels Using CRISPR/Cas9 in an in vitro Mouse Cellular System

Holly Cheng, 18, of Mount Kisco, New York, found a new target region for gene editing that may be useful in future research and therapy for sickle cell disease. After using CRISPR Cas9 “molecular scissors” to edit red blood cell precursors from bone marrow, she found increased expression of functional fetal hemoglobin in the edited precursors cells, which may be a key to restoring red blood cell function.

Ankush Dhawan

School: Signature School, Evansville, IN
Project Title: An Improved Method for Trace Level Arsenic Quantification in Water

Ankush Kundan Dhawan, 18, of Newburgh, Indiana, devised a method to detect trace levels of arsenic in drinking water that is less costly than the techniques used currently to measure such small concentrations. By refining a previously developed method, he was able to reduce the detection limit to 3.5 ppb, much less than the U.S. EPA standard of 10 ppb. He also developed a low-cost portable visual version for potential use in remote areas.

Maria Fields

School: University-Liggett School, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI
Project Title: Genes that Potentially Drive Health Outcome Disparities for African-American Women with TNBC

Maria Fields, 17, of Detroit, Michigan, offered a possible genetic explanation for higher frequency and mortality from triple-negative breast cancer in African American women, compared to European American women. She found significant differences in gene expression in tumor tissue data from patients classified by race, and also noted these differences in specific genes that control the machinery of cell division.

Ari Firester

School: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Project Title: WormBots: Earthworm Inspired Robots with Self-Assembly Capabilities

Ari Joseph Firester, 17, of New York, New York, designed, prototyped, and tested two kinds of “WormBots” that could move through narrow passages to assist with disaster relief. The latest version of his worm-like robot elongates and contracts to move, and multiple “bots” can even attach to one another, head-to-tail, to form a single long robot for complex missions. Ari was inspired by the news of the Thai soccer players trapped in a water-filled cave.

Victoria Graf

School: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA
Project Title: Determining Stimulus Selection Parameters for Treatment of Neurological Disorders Using Statistical Analysis of EEG Signal Entropy

Victoria Graf, 17, of Arlington, Virginia, studied the relationship between music and complex neurological responses in the human brain and hopes her work will one day help people with disorders like Alzheimer’s disease that have diminished-complexity brain activity. Using data from a university study, Victoria analyzed participants’ electroencephalography (EEG) responses to music and how the responses were affected by musical experience. She found that a musical stimulus tailored to a listener’s musical history would better induce complex brain activity

Zander Hill

School: BASIS Scottsdale, Scottsdale, AZ
Project Title: Upper Bound on the Distortion of Cabled Knots

Zander Douglas Hill, 18, of Scottsdale, Arizona, submitted a mathematics project about torus knots, part of the study of topology His work helps expand mathematicians’ knowledge of knot theory and may help make this notoriously difficult field less so. Although this part of knot theory (and knot theory itself) is an abstract area of mathematics, it has some applications in biology and DNA replication.

Raina Jain

School: Greenwich High School, Greenwich, CT
Project Title: Control of Varroa destructor Infestation with a Dual-Function Thymol-Emitting Honey Bee Hive Entranceway

Raina Jain, 17, of Riverside, Conn., designed and 3D-printed a new entranceway to honeybee hives to protect the bees from Varroa mites, a leading cause of bee colony collapse. Her entranceway coats a passing bee with thymol gel, a Varroa toxin harmless to bees. By calculating how much gel a bee collects, and how much it degrades in flight, she found it takes a bee four days to collect enough thymol to kill the mites. The miticide also outgasses into the hive to protect bees that never leave.

Anushka Jetly

School: Friendswood High School, Friendswood, TX
Project Title: An Affordable, Machine Learning-Aided Otologic Diagnostic Suite for Automatic Detection of Middle Ear Abnormalities

Anushka Sameer Jetly, 17, of Friendswood, Texas, invented two inexpensive diagnostic tools that she hopes can reduce childhood hearing disorders in rural, low-income areas of the world. Her smart otoscope can visually identify ear drum problems and her smart tympanometer can categorize different types of middle ear infections using sound waves. Together her two portable inventions cost under $200, compared to about $4,800 for conventional devices.

Helena Jiang

School: Buchholz High School, Gainesville, FL
Project Title: Novel Bioinspired Colorimetric Sensors for Detecting Chemicals in Vapor, Liquid, and Solid Phases

Helena Jiang, 17, of Gainesville, Florida, invented easy-to-see color-changing polymer sensors that can detect various pollutants in the environment by changing colors. Helena’s film-sensor can easily and affordably signal trace amounts of certain pollutants in liquids, gases and even solids by changing colors. She also created a smartphone-based mobile platform to quantify the pollutants. She was first inspired by pH paper that detects acidity and then displays results in color.

Nithin Kavi

School: Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, Acton, MA
Project Title: Cutting and Gluing Surfaces

Nithin Kavi, 18, of Acton, Massachusetts, studied a rather abstract problem in the field of topology by applying combinatorics, another field of mathematics that is frequently used in computer science to study algorithms. Nithin showed how any balanced construction of ribboned wheels of two colors can be turned into any other balanced arrangement by repeatedly using specific cutting and gluing operations, a finding that will be useful to other mathematicians and topologists.

Olivia Krivitsky

School: Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, NJ
Project Title: Ketones: Novel Treatment for Aberrant Conditions in the Diabetic Eye

Olivia Rose Krivitsky, 17, of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, studied the effects of supplemental ketone bodies on diabetic eye diseases linked to high levels of reactive oxygen species. Ketone bodies, which have anti-inflammatory properties, are created when fats are used for energy, and some diabetic patients have experienced symptom improvement with a keto diet. Olivia’s work may benefit future diabetes patients facing the risk of retinopathy and macular degeneration.

Caitlin Kunchur

School: Dutch Fork High School, Irmo, SC
Project Title: Evaluating Room Acoustics for Speech Intelligibility

Caitlin Rita Kunchur, 17, of Irmo, South Carolina, identified acoustical properties conducive to understanding speech that may inform future designs of listening settings, such as classrooms. When she tested the intelligibility of similar speech sounds in three rooms with varying acoustic conditions, she found that more reverberation at the speaker’s location, along with more sound absorption near the listener, help the latter distinguish speech.

Kyra McCreery

School: North Shore High School, Glen Head, NY
Project Title: Associations between the Slowdown in North Atlantic Tropical-Cyclone Translation Speed and Intensifying Storm Precipitation

Kyra McCreery, 17, of Sea Cliff, New York., explored slowdowns in the ground speed of cyclones and hurricanes in the North Atlantic and the resulting damage they cause. Her data analysis from 1,857 tropical cyclones suggests that their average ground speed has declined considerably over the past 165 years, while their frequency and intensity appear to have increased. She believes that continued global warming might result in storms stalling more often, thus increasing the accumulation of precipitation and flood damage.

Nadine Meister

School: Centennial High School, Ellicott City, MD
Project Title: Cooperative Relaxation in Supercooled Liquids: Kadanoff’s Block Construction and Wilson’s Renormalization Group Transformation

Nadine Meister, 17, of Ellicott City, Maryland, studied supercooled liquids, specifically metallic glasses – metals with glass-like molecular arrangements that are formed from liquids cooled below their freezing points using a process that ensures they remain fluid. To model these supercooled liquids, Nadine combined traditional models with a technique created to explain the nature of liquids near equilibrium with their gaseous phase. Her work gives new insights into the kinetic and thermodynamic properties of supercooled liquids.

Sonja Michaluk

School: Hopewell Valley Central High School, Pennington, NJ
Project Title: A Novel Method of Monitoring the Health of our Global Fresh Water Supply using DNA Barcoding of Chironomidae (Diptera)

Sonja Morgan Simon Michaluk 16, of Titusville, New Jersey, devised a way to measure the ecological health of surface water that is less costly and more accurate than current bioassessment and monitoring techniques. By barcoding the DNA of larval Chironomid flies, commonly known as lake flies, bay flies, or non-biting midges, Sonja was able to identify and evaluate the cumulative effects on the body of water, including habitat alteration and pollutants. Her method could contribute to a global protocol for freshwater assessment.

Annie Ostojic

School: Munster High School, Munster, IN
Project Title: Targeting Cancer via Signaling Pathways: A Novel Approach to the Discovery of Gene CCDC191’s Double-Agent Function using Differential Gene Expression, Heat Map Analyses through AI Deep Learning, and Mathematical Modeling

Annie Ostojic, 17, of Munster, Indiana, used a public access database to study gene CCDC191 in 33 cancer types before narrowing her focus to human breast cancer. Annie’s novel approach used AI deep learning to analyze differential gene expression and reverse engineering mathematical modeling. She found that CCDC191 acts as a double agent and can lead to two opposite responses, either the loss of controlled cell death or uncontrolled cell growth, both of which contribute to cancer development and progression.

Alina Pollner

School: Canyon Crest Academy, San Diego, CA
Project Title: Novel Strategy to Increase Fruit Production via CRISPR-Cas9 Genome Engineering

Alina Virginia Pollner, 18, of San Diego, California, investigated the roles of a subset of two regulatory genes, called mini zinc fingers (MZF), in a model plant. Alina used CRISPR Cas9, a technique that uses “molecular scissors,” to delete both the MZF1gene, which is highly expressed in fruit and flowers at early stages, and the MZF2 gene from the plant’s DNA. The modified plants showed a 295 percent increase in fruit per stem. Her work could one day reduce food insecurity by increasing food production per acre.

Ella Wesson

School: Manhasset High School, Manhasset, NY
Project Title: Engineering One Layer of a Two-Dimensional Acoustic Band Gap Material and Reconstructing the Sound Pressure Field using Acoustic Holography

Ella Rose Wesson, 17, of Manhasset, New York, combined gas-filled latex balloons with acoustic holography to evaluate materials that prevent sound waves from propagating. She found that sound waves passing from air into helium-filled balloons diverge, while waves passing through balloons with a heavier gas, sulfur hexafluoride, converge. She then used holography to visualize how sound waves propagate through an array of balloons to model the performance of sound management materials.

Brian Wu

School: Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY
Project Title: Tatooine Found! Discovery, Confirmation, and Characterization of the First-Ever Circumbinary Planet Detected Using Doppler Spectroscopy Applied in Conjunction with a Novel Synthetic Spectra-Based Confirmation System and Machine Learning

Brian Yikang Wu, 18, of Scarsdale, New York, developed a new approach to identifying exoplanets that orbit two stars, called circumbinary planets. He studied radial velocity data from 1,100 sun-like stars using Doppler spectroscopy to look for “spectra wobbles.” then, analyzed his findings using a deep learning program he created to refine his results. When compared to current methods, Brian’s approach showed improved accuracy of exoplanet identification and enabled him to successfully identify a new circumbinary planet—one of roughly two dozen known and the first of its kind discovered using Doppler spectroscopy.

Yi Xie

School: Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, NY
Project Title: Harnessing the Power of Comparative Functional Genetics: How the Medically Important Enzyme Na+, K+-ATPase Can Advance the Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases

Yi (Eva) Xie, 18, of Flushing, New York, identified genetic variations that show tolerance to the toxic side effects of cardiac glycosides, a steroid therapy widely used to treat cardiovascular diseases. Eva exposed 30 fruit fly strains to cardiac glycosides and used genetic association studies to reveal four variations linked with adult fruit fly survival, a finding that may help researchers overcome limitations of cardiovascular disease therapy in humans.

Ellie Yang

School: Parkway Central High School, Chesterfield, MO
Project Title: A Deep Learning Model Using a Convolutional Neural Network for the Detection of Guns, Knives, and Blood: SafetyNet

Ellie Zhixi Yang, 17, of Chesterfield, Missouri, created a deep learning computer model to detect guns, knives and blood from streaming video. Inspired by the Parkland School shooting, Ellie trained her computer vision system using 3.7 million pieces of human-annotated image data. In operation, the system should be able to analyze video from social media or onsite streaming systems and return results fast, in under 100 milliseconds. Her ultimate goal is quicker emergency response and lives saved.

Kevin Yang

School: Fairview High School, Boulder, CO
Project Title: From Greenhouse to Redhouse: Development of an Advanced Film to Promote Photosynthetic Activity and Crop Production

Kevin G. Yang, 18, of Boulder, Colorado, created a specially constructed film that he calls Redhouse to make a greenhouse’s available light more effective. His material contains a fluorescent dye with micro-dome structures that convert green light, which plants do not use efficiently, into red light that plants can better absorb. In tests using algae, his new film increased photosynthesis by over 30 percent. He hopes more efficient greenhouses will help feed future populations.

Jake Yasonik

School: Homestead High School, Mequon, WI
Project Title: Multiobjective De Novo Drug Design with Recurrent Neural Networks and Nondominated Sorting

Jacob Yasonik, 18, of Mequon, Wisconsin, combined a recurrent neural network with a special sorting algorithm to develop new drug molecules “from scratch” (without needing trial-and-error techniques). His method starts from theoretical knowledge of molecules to propose and optimize new structures with certain desired characteristics. Jake says his approach yielded a 14-fold improvement in the quality of the molecules generated.

Makayla Gates

School: Valencia High School, Los Lunas, NM
Project Title: Comparative Analysis of Lovastatin Introduction Through Botanical Dietary Supplementation in Apis mellifera for Treatment of Social Anxieties in Fragile-X Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder Patients

Makayla R. Gates, 18 of Peralta, New Mexico, identified certain individual honeybees as “unsocial” and fed them a botanical form of lovastatin, resulting in significantly greater interactivity after retesting them in a “sociability chamber” that she built herself. She used hives owned by her grandparents. Her work may imply a role for natural supplements in relieving social anxieties associated with fragile X syndrome, the most common cause of autism spectrum disorder.

Jason Liu

School: The Davidson Academy of Nevada, Reno, NV
Project Title: On Q-binomial Polynomials and Quantum Integer-Valued Polynomials

Jason Jiming Liu, 17, of Reno, Nevada, advanced the theory of q-integer polynomials. Specifically, he found useful mathematical representations of q-integer polynomials which preserve the sign of the q-integers and q-integer polynomials that contain more than one variable. Through his work, Jason hopes that scientists will better understand quantum mechanics.

Zhifei Yu

School: Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
Project Title: Orbital Decay of the X-Ray Binary LMC X-4

Zhifei (Faye) Yu, 18, of Andover, Massachusetts, analyzed the orbital decay of a binary star system, called LMC X-4, which consists of a tiny X-ray-emitting star and a giant star, both in an orbit around their mutual center of mass. She used new NASA data to calculate the time required for the giant star to eclipse the small star and incorporated historical data to measure the system’s orbital decay. Faye concluded that the constantly decaying orbit of the two stars will cause them eventually to merge, something that has only been theorized to date.