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California Teen Eshani Jha Wins 3rd Place Regeneron Science Talent Search for Developing Biochar Filtration System

California Teen Eshani Jha Wins 3rd Place Regeneron Science Talent Search for Developing Biochar Filtration System

  • Three other Indian Americans among top 10 winners of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

Four Indian American students are among top 10 winners of the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

Seventeen-year-old Eshani Jha of San Jose, California, won third place and $150,000 for her development of a biochar filtration system that removes microplastics, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and heavy metals (such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury) from drinking water. “Biochar has properties similar to charcoal but is much more sustainable and affordable because it can be made from biowastes,” Regeneron says. Jha found that its effectiveness could be enhanced by increasing its surface area and carbon content and by adding certain chemical modifications to improve its ability to sequester contaminants. She estimates her filter would cost under a dollar per month.

Yunseo Choi, 18, of Exeter, New Hampshire, won first place and $250,000 for her project where she played theoretical “match maker” for an infinite number of things or people, while second place and $175,000 went to Noah Getz, 17, of New York, for his research where he adjusted the way computer models identify promising pharmaceutical compounds, which could make the discovery of new drugs faster and less expensive.

Fourth place went to Gopal Goel, 17, of Portland, Oregon for math research that made connections between two subjects regarding randomness and probability. “Prior work by others had shown that a connection existed, but Gopal indicated that this connection is much more general in nature,” Regeneron says. Her erected a $100,000 award. He believes his work can be useful to researchers in the fields of nuclear physics, quantum field theory and meteorology, and hopes it will aid in the search for the true nature of quantum gravity, more commonly known as “the theory of everything.”

In the sixth place was Vetri Vel, 16, of Veazie, Maine, who received a $80,000 award for his project engineering a deep learning system that combines a small computer and a thermal camera to detect heat signatures of a fallen person and immediately text for help. His hands-free detection system was able to distinguish among competing images to identify a fallen person at an average accuracy of 98 percent. He started his project after a neighbor collapsed alone at home. Falls are a leading cause of fatal injury among older adults.

Alay Shah, 17, of Plano, Texas was declared seventh place winner and received a $70,000 award, for the development of a diagnostic tool that tracks eye movement to identify neurological disorders that he hopes can become a low-cost alternative to MRIs. Shah’s  tool tracks pupil movement and gaze with an infrared camera and uses software he wrote. The data is then analyzed using deep learning algorithms to identify abnormal eye reflexes. In clinical tests of patients with Parkinson’s, dementia, multiple sclerosis and ADHD, he found unique eye patterns associated with each condition.

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“Congratulations to the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021 winners,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of Society for Science, Publisher of Science News and 1985 Science Talent Search alumna. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, students like Yunseo have shown incredible resilience and perseverance in the face of new obstacles, conducting rigorous research, while navigating an uncertain world. These young people are the stewards of our future and I could not be more inspired by their hard work and pure grit.”

Other Indian Americans who were finalists in the competition were Laalitya Acharya of William Mason High School, Mason, Ohio (Project Title: Nereid: Using a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) Approach, an AI Technique, to Rapidly and Accurately Detect Microbial Contamination that May Cause Water-Borne Diseases); Akhilesh Balasingam of Archbishop Mitty High School, San Jose, California (Project Title: A Kinetic Monte Carlo Simulator for Multi-Terminal RRAM Devices with Applications to Brain-Inspired Computing); Vedanth Iyer of Sunset High School, Portland, Oregon (Project Title: First-Principles Characterization of a Novel Chromium Doped Vanadyl-Oxide Based Cathode for Higher Energy and Efficiency Lithium-Ion Batteries); Anushka Sanyal of Homestead High School, Cupertino, California (Project Title: Intronic RNA Lariats Protect Against Neurodegenerative Disease Related Protein Aggregation); and of Mills E. Godwin High School, Richmond, Virginia (Project Title: ELMOPP: An Application of Graph Theory and Machine Learning to Traffic Light Coordination). Each finalist not in the top 10 received $25,000.

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