$250,000 for a High School Science Student

$250,000 for a High School Science Student

November 30, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


By the end of this video, one of these three high school seniors will be awarded two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for their original scientific research now the way this went down was, Regeneron the sponsor of this video, invited me out to Washington DC for the awards gala of the Regeneron Science Talent Search this is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors founded and produced by Society for Science & the Public Here the 40 finalists were honored and the top 10 winners announced now they couldn’t tell me who was going to win because not even they knew beforehand and that’s because the students are judged not only on the strength of their projects but also on interviews where they are asked very challenging questions about a wide range of scientific topics so I selected three students to follow and find out more about their projects just to be clear these were not the top three place winners they are students I picked in advance but it just so happened that I picked the winner so can you pick the winner? let’s meet the candidates Ronak Roy redesigned the Phoroptor that’s the device used to determine eyeglass prescriptions it contains dozens of precision glass lenses making it bulky, heavy, expensive and a design that hasn’t really changed in two hundred years I wanted to make something that you know could could fit the greater than half the Earth’s population who you know can’t just you know drive down to an optometrist office and just get a prescription so can we see it? oh yeah absolutely so this is this is my child here this is this is the portable Phoroptor as you can see it has the the liquid lens that is actually the one responsible for replacing the dozens of precisely machine lenses here so how does this liquid lens work Right. So it has a droplet of a polar substance like water And a droplet of a non-polar substance like like a mineral oil when you apply a voltage across of it the voltage will cause the polar substance to actually change its shape and go hug or repel the surfaces of the lens so by changing the shape of the bubble you change the way light refracts through it as it passes through that the two glass windows and therefore you know you’re changing the focal length of the lens you you made an app? yeah I did so the screen you’re looking at which is runs on an app on my smartphone displays a test chart and runs an algorithm to actually do the refraction I mean those are pretty small letters those three static glass lenses are able to make it so the light coming from the phone are projected to a virtual distance of that twenty feet so it’s basically simulating that that test room but you know optically instead so the way it works is there’s an algorithm running on the smartphone app that generates pairs of lens voltages for the patient to compare and in order to switch between the two lens voltages the patient can click a button on a pair of headphones so you can click once to toggle between the two and once you’ve found which of the two is the best okay that’s better all right so you can double click it and it will you know indicate to the algorithm that it indeed is the best and generate the next pair yeah I think it got worse yeah um so… And I’m gonna click? Uh.. Yeah Okay that’s better but it’s not the best I’ve seen the algorithm will basically cycle through this lens voltage pair generation process this is like night and day. Like, it’s not like it’s not even a question until it zeros in on on the one voltage that works the best for you okay okay that or… Oh yes Test complete all right awesome would you like to know I would love to know what my eyesight is like all right so I calculated negative 1.25 diopters um which is roughly in the range that most people with slight nearsightedness would have Ana Humphrey wanted to find hidden exoplanets with math the Kepler space telescope has been the most prolific planet finder to date detecting over 2,000 exoplanets by measuring a dip in their host stars brightness when they pass in front of it but what happens if the planet passes just above or just below the star Also, what if that planet is really small? those little tiny shadows are really hard to pull out and you’ve got a lot of noise a further challenge is that the Kepler mission only ran for four years that means our absolute limit is it’s really hard to find anything that takes longer than four years to orbit To identify planets Kepler might have missed, Ana looked at existing multi planetary systems and calculated whether additional planets could fit in between the ones we observed without disturbing their orbits I imagine that you already have some sort of planets here so we’re going to call this planet X so what are these two lines? this line here is the same as this outer line it’s how close your imaginary planet can get to your outer planet and this line here is your a-x-min so it’s how close your imaginary planet can get to your inner planet so it’s this line here we have this region of stability given the extremes of where we can put a planet and we have the maximum mass you can fit there and anything in this area here sort of shade around our label anything between these two graphs is a combination of a planet’s mass and a location of the planet that we could fit in between the two we know about and maintain a stable system cool yeah Now the question everyone will ask you is like what’s to say that this planet really exists as opposed to you just making up stuff? So the assumption that I made going into my research was that systems are going to try to have as many planets packed in as possible this is called the packed planetary system hypothesis there are 560 locations where we could fit additional planets so quite a few how might we go about actually finding them? One of the ways you could go about doing this is by doing something called folding the data so let’s say we figure out that a planet should have an orbital period of about one month we have a year’s worth of data and we fold that data in twelve and get it to line up just right we can get it so those transit signals actually layer on top of each other and then we get a larger signal as a that you know we can find as opposed to the really small signals that sort of get lost in the noise Do you want to introduce yourself? What’s your name, what do you do? Sure Yeah. My name is Anjali Chadha. I am a senior at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky What is.. this? That Anjali was concerned with dangerous contaminants in drinking water this is a prototype of my arsenic sensor so you want to load a water sample right here in this compartment the whole process starts with an automated chemical reaction so there are a bunch of chemical reagents that sit in this compartment above the water sample so the first reagent is tartaric acid next is a combination of salts it’s called mono potassium sulfate and the third is zinc Arsenic is an element that’s never found freely but it’s always bound to other elements so basically that chemical reaction will help to free up all of the arsenic and then the arsenic content changes into a gaseous form of arsine gas and that’s the best detectable form of arsenic basically so what happens after that gas is formed is that there is a test strip and it’s covered in mercury bromide which oxidizes in response to the arsenic and then changes color So it’s actually on a gradient scale. If there’s very little arsenic content then it just changes to a light color and if there’s a lot changes a dark color and everything in between right so what I then did was write an image processing algorithm using some embedded electronic devices specifically this device called an ArduCAM it’s just an embedded camera and essentially the camera takes a picture of that test strip after it’s changed color it then pulls out all of the color values of the test strip and converts them into concentration data so I wrote some mathematical models that kind of made that conversion and then the last kind of piece of the puzzle is that there is this device it’s a microcontroller called a particle electron and it’s connected to this cellular antenna so that the data is instantaneously transmitted to the cloud the real advantages of that is that several people would be able to access the data collected from one sensor whether it’s people in the same community who want to kind of have that information and knowledge about their water sources or whether it’s people in research organizations who are trying to really learn more learn what to test learn what to improve and what sites to really work on so those are kind of the reasons why I chose to do that So now the moment of truth which one of these high school students will win two hundred and fifty thousand dollars? now I should point out that all 40 finalists each receive at least $25,000, the top ten receiving more than that the first-place winner and recipient of a 250 thousand dollar award… from TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia Ana Humphrey congratulations to Ana Humphrey on winning this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search if you know any bright American high school students please consider sending them this video it could be their turn next up on that stage and if you are an American high school student, think about these numbers: around 3.6 million students graduate high school in the US each year but only 2,000 or so applied the Regeneron Science Talent Search that means if you enter your science research project you have a 1 in 50 shot of winning at least $25,000 I mean when else in high school do you get the opportunity to get such a financial boost and receive recognition for your ability in science and math this opportunity could literally be life-changing so take the next step click the link in the description and sign up to receive updates about the competition entries are open to all American high school seniors for next year starting June 1st and good luck Now a little epilogue about Ana you know I asked her what inspired her to pursue this research in the first place and she told me researchers at Caltech had predicted this ninth planet do you know what the researchers names were? Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin. I always mess up his last name So I took her work and showed it to Konstantin Batygin when i first looked at this, I was blown away by the fact that this was a high school student Right, I mean this is this is done at the very least at the level of a senior undergraduate maybe a graduate level student Right? I mean, it’s a PhD level student and finally when I was watching the black hole press conference the other morning, we have seen and taken a picture of a black hole who should be in the audience asking a question? Ana Humphrey. It’s like science is in her blood. I expect to see much more in the future from this very talented young scientist Congrats again, Ana