Three Indian-Americans among top ten students in science talent competition

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Three Indian-American students are among the top ten winners of the most prestigious national science talent search conducted annually.

Neil Chowdhury, 5th place winner in national science talent search contest 2022 announced March 15. Photo: videograb from societyforscience.org

Neil Chowdhury, 18, of Belleview, Washington; Pravalika Gayatri Pulalapattu, 17, of Centreville, Virginia; and Neil Rathi, 17, of Palo Alto, California, earned 5th, 7th, and 8th positions in the highly competitive science competition, announced Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN) and Society for Science (the Society), which conduct the competition, March 15, 2022.

Pravalika Putalapattu, 7th place winner of the 2022 national science talent search contest, announced March 15. Photo: videograb societyforscience.org

This was the first time after 2019 that the competition was held in person observing pandemic regulations, in Washington D.C.

Neil Rathi, 8th place winner of the 2022 national science talent search competition announced March 15. Photo videograb societyforscience.org
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Christine Ye, 17, of Sammamish, Wash., won the top award in this oldest science and math competition for high school seniors.

Forty finalists, including Christine, were honored during a livestreamed award ceremony emceed by Saturday Night Live’s Melissa Villaseñor.

More than $1.8 million was awarded to the finalists, who were evaluated based on their projects’ scientific rigor, their exceptional problem-solving abilities and their potential to become scientific leaders.

Ye won first place and $250,000 for her project, which analyzed the gravitational waves emitted from huge collisions between neutron stars (collapsed super-dense stars) and black holes

Second place and $175,000 went to Victor Cai, 18, of Orefield, Pa., who created a short-range, narrow-bandwidth radar that calculates distance by transmitting two signals at different frequencies and then measuring the phase difference between them.                                                                                               Third place and $150,000 went to Amber Luo, 18, of Stony Brook, N.Y., for developing a software, RiboBayes, that identifies key regions known as “ribosome pause sites” along a cell’s mRNA transcripts that regulate protein synthesis.

Chowdhury received a $90,000 award for creating a computer model to study the role of a histone protein implicated in colon cancer and found that the histone caused changes to two key processes regulating the way DNA folds itself to fit into the nucleus of cells. His simulations of polymers, using data from a colon cancer cell line, accurately reproduced recent experimental results and showed that the histone modification caused changes in the DNA’s physical formation, specifically compartmentalization and loop extrusion.

Putalapattu received a $70,000 award for designing a video-assisted workflow recognition program to monitor laparoscopic gall bladder surgeries in real time, verify the surgeons’ actions, and flag errors so immediate corrective action can be taken. Her work was inspired after a close cousin died from a preventable surgical mistake by a “tired, overworked, underpaid surgeon in India.” Her new system is five times faster than similar systems used currently.

Rathi received a $60,000 award for identifying common linguistic patterns in four languages that support the theory that human language evolved for greater efficiency in communication. Using a machine learning model, Neil studied how our minds optimize language by fusing multiple informational elements into the smallest meaningful unit of a word such as “ed” in “talked,” which conveys both past tense and word completion, and he found patterns of “informational fusion” in all four languages.

“The Regeneron Science Talent Search winners give me hope for the future, and I congratulate them on their tremendous success,” Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science, Publisher of Science News and 1985 Science Talent Search alumna, is quoted saying in a press release. “For the first time in two years, we have been able to gather in person to celebrate the next generation of scientific leaders who are motivated by curiosity and inspired to solve the world’s most intractable problems. I am impressed by their scientific research and strength of character.”

“Congratulations to the winners of the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022, and to all our impressive finalists. Each of the students are brilliant scientists and mathematicians, and each has the power to bring real, positive change to society and help address future existential challenges, whether it be climate change, genetic-based diseases or understanding the universe,” said Dr. George D. Yancopoulos, co-founder, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron, and a winner of the 1976 Science Talent Search.

Other winners among the top ten include in fourth place, Daniel Larsen, 18, of Bloomington, Ind.;  in sixth place, Aseel Rawashdeh, 17, and tenth place Luke Robitaille, 18, of Euless, Texas.

All other finalists received $25,000, and each finalist will join the ranks of other Science Talent Search alumni, many of whom have gone on to have world-changing careers in STEM fields, and some of whom have earned the most esteemed honors in science and math, including the Nobel Prize, National Medal of Science and MacArthur Foundation Fellowships. In total, Regeneron awarded $3.1 million in prizes through the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022, including $2,000 to each of the top scholars and their schools.

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