Eight seniors selected as 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars

2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars from NCSSM’s residential and online programs, L-R: Sahil Pontula (online student from Enloe High School), Ariba Huda, Cindy Zhu, Payton Downey, Madison Houck, Andy Wang, Ishaan Maitra, and Jason Li.

Seven NCSSM seniors in the school’s residential program and one NCSSM Online senior from Enloe High School are among 300 students nationwide and beyond who have been named by the Society for Science & the Public as Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars. Payton Downey, Madison Houck, Ariba Huda, Jason Li, Ishaan Maitra, Sahil Pontula (Enloe High School), Andy Wang and Cindy Zhu were recognized for research conducted while students at NCSSM, garnering prizes of $2,000 each. NCSSM has also been awarded $2,000 per scholar to inspire more young people to engage in science.   “We are inspired by the incredible energy and passion of every scholar who is using research to make the world a better place,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public, Publisher of Science News, and a 1985 alum of both the Science Talent Search and NCSSM. “These young students will be the key to unlocking solutions to many of our world’s most pressing challenges.”    The Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars were selected from 1,993 applications received from 659 high schools across 49 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and eight countries. Scholars were chosen based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists and hail from 192 American and international high schools in 39 states and Guam.   The Regeneron Science Talent Search provides students a national stage to present original research and celebrates the hard work and novel discoveries of young scientists who are bringing a fresh perspective to significant global challenges. This year, research projects cover topics from medicine and health to environmental science.   “Congratulations to all 300 scholars from this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search and welcome to a network of exceptional student leaders and innovators,” said Hala Mirza, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Citizenship at Regeneron. “We are thrilled to recognize and honor these students for the many contributions they are making to the STEM community and our broader society. With such a wide array of interests and high-quality work, we are eager to follow their progress in the years to come.”   On Jan. 22, 40 of the 300 scholars will be named Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists. Finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for March 5-11, when they will compete for more than $1.8 million in awards provided by Regeneron.   NCSSM’s scholars, with their project titles and mentors, are:   Payton Downey, Nitrogen-doped Graphene Quantum Dots for Increased CO2 Reduction Efficiency and Hydrocarbon Selectivity (Mentored by NCSSM’s Dr. Timothy Anglin)   Madison Houck, Sesamol as a Novel Redox Mediator for the Electrochemical Separation of Carbon Dioxide from Flue Gas (Mentored by NCSSM’s Dr. Michael Bruno)   Ariba Huda, Small Molecule Activation of Wnt/β-Catenin Signaling Pathway on Neurodegeneration Rates of Dopaminergic Neurons in Caenorhabditis Elegans (Mentored by NCSSM’s Dr. Kimberly Monahan)   Jason Li, Development of a New Hidden Markov Model for Prediction and Characterization of Transcription from RNA Sequencing Expression Profiles (Mentored by NCSSM’s Bob Gotwals and Dr. Alexander Hartemink of Duke University)   Ishaan Maitra, ROPLight: A Platform for the Early Detection of Retinopathy of Prematurity and Plus Disease using Image Processing, Convolutional Neural Network, and a 3D Printed Smartphone Indirect Lens Adapter (Mentored by NCSSM’s Bob Gotwals and Dr. Grace Prakalapakorn of Duke University)   Sahil Pontula (Online student from Enloe High School), Designing a General-Purpose Differentiable Partial Differential Equation Solver for Parameter Extraction and Inverse Design: Pollutant Model Applications and Beyond (Mentored by NCSSM’s Bob Gotwals and Peter Lu and Dr. Marin Soljacic of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)   Andy Wang, Fabrication and characterization of graphene devices encapsulated in hexagonal boron nitride (Mentored by NCSSM’s Dr. Jonathan Bennett and Dr. Gleb Finkelstein and Andrew Seredinski of Duke University )   Cindy Zhu, Emotional Processing and Working Memory in Schizophrenia with Neutral and Negative Stimuli: An fMRI Study (Mentored by NCSSM’s Bob Gotwals and Dr. Andrea Pelletier-Baldelli and Dr. Aysenil Belger of UNC-Chapel Hill)    The full list of scholars can be viewed here.   To follow NCSSM’s scholars through the rest of the competition, visit

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