news

NCSSM students selected as 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics continues our tradition of having a statistically significant number of students named as semifinalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition, with 10 residential seniors among 300 national and international high school seniors receiving the honor. Deemed Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars, these students were selected from a pool of nearly 1,800 students from 611 high schools across 45 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 10 countries. Only two other schools had more semifinalists than NCSSM.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search competition is organized and managed by the Society for Science, a nonprofit which describes itself as “dedicated to expanding scientific literacy, effective STEM education and scientific research.” The Society originated the competition in 1942, making it the oldest math and science competition in the nation. It has been so successful in fostering its mission that it is now considered the most prestigious competition of its kind in the country.

“The remarkable drive, creativity and intellectual curiosity that each one of these scholars possesses represents a hopeful outlook for our future and our collective wellbeing,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of Society for Science, in a press release announcing the scholars. “At a time when many students’ educational experiences are being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am incredibly humbled to see gifted young scientists and engineers eager to contribute fresh insights to solving the world’s most intractable problems.” Ajmera is also the publisher of Science News, an alum of both the 1985 Science Talent Search and NCSSM, and a member of the NCSSM Foundation Board of Directors. 

NCSSM science instructors Amy Sheck and Kimberly Monahan (Research in Biology), Tim Anglin and Michael Bruno (Research in Chemistry), and Bob Gotwals (Research in Computational Science) mentored nine of the students in their research, with the tenth student conducting research independent of NCSSM. An NCSSM Online student was selected, as well, for research conducted independent of the school.

Though NCSSM usually has a presence each year among the semifinalists, the 10 students recognized this year — a year in which the pandemic severely curtailed students’ ability to work in-person with their mentors — exceeded the numbers typically recognized in years past. It’s a fact at which Sheck, Dean of Science, who mentored two of the students, marvels.

“Having 10 semifinalists this year is amazing,” she says. “Because of the pandemic, we didn’t have the lab time that we normally do. The students faced incredible disadvantages, but they did better than ever.”

“I am very proud of our semifinalists,” says Monahan, who also mentored two of the selected students. “They worked incredibly hard and even in the face of a pandemic were able to modify and pivot their research plans to conduct their experiments and accomplish their goals.” 

Six of the nine residential students who were selected as Scholars for their work at NCSSM had a computational science component in their research. Gotwals, who teaches chemistry at NCSSM and spearheads the school’s computational science initiatives, had three of his nine computational science research students among those students. It’s a result, he suggests, of computational research becoming more accepted as a “valid scientific approach” now that COVID has severely limited more traditional forms of research.

“I had an incredible group of students,” Gotwals says. “All of the projects submitted to Regeneron from the computational group were competitive. We’ve had incredible work coming out of this group for years, but it did not do well in competitions. That is definitely starting to change.” 

Sheck says Gotwals is being modest. “I have to give Bob Gotwals a lot of credit,” she says. “Prior to the summer, students had written their research proposals and defended them. A whole lot of work went into those proposals prior to the summer. But then we realized, because of COVID, we were not going to have a face-to-face program in the summer. We said, ‘Oh my gosh! How can we make these projects more computational?’ That’s when Bob came in. He said to the students, ‘You can create a computer model and simulate your planned research and still ask the same questions you were planning to ask.’ I’ve just got to give him a lot of credit for helping us all, students and teachers.”

Katie O’Connor, NCSSM’s Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs, expressed admiration for the student/mentor teams that managed to stand out among the many who were vying for the award. “We’re very proud of the hard work and perseverance of both our Regeneron semifinalists and the mentors who helped them with their research. It’s always an accomplishment to be recognized for their hard work by such an admired competition, but we are especially happy for our students and mentors this year given the challenges to teaching and learning presented by the pandemic.”

NCSSM’s Renegeron Scholars now move to the next phase of the competition where 40 finalists will be announced on Jan. 21 to compete for a top prize of $250,000 in March.

NCSSM’s Regeneron Scholars, their mentors, and their project titles are:

Anika Bhadriraju

Mentor: Tim Anglin, NCSSM Chemistry Instructor

Project Title: Computational Design of Pathogen-Specific Hsp90 Inhibitor to Target Malarial Parasites

Alvin Chen

Mentor: Kai Huang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematics graduate student  

Project Title: Alpha Invariants of K-Semistable Smooth Toric Fano Varieties

Melissa Du

Mentor: Amy Sheck, NCSSM Dean of Science and Biology Instructor

Project Title: A Stochastic Population Dynamics Model of Antibiotic Resistance, Tolerance, and Persistence 

Sriya Mantena

Mentor: Bob Gotwals, NCSSM Chemistry Instructor

Project Title: Investigating the Geometric Determinants of Hemodynamics in Carotid Artery Stenosis for Stroke Prediction

Nina Nair

Mentor: Michael Bruno, NCSSM Chemistry Chair and Chemistry Instructor

Project Title: In Silico Rational Design of a Novel Anticancer Topo IIα/Hsp90 Dual Inhibitor with Potential for Oral Administration

Om Nerurkar

Mentor: Bob Gotwals, NCSSM Chemistry Instructor

Project Title: Estimating The Effects of Ocean Acidification on Coastal Communities: A Case Study in South Puget Sound

Nnamdi Obi

Mentor: Kimberly Monahan, NCSSM Biology Chair and Biology Instructor

Project Title: Investigation of the Possible Synergistic Effects Between MSDC-0160 and Rapamycin in Treating Parkinson’s Disease 

Emily Yang

Mentor: Amy Sheck, NCSSM Dean of Science and Biology Instructor

Project Title: The Effects of Social Interaction on the Distribution and Acquisition of Resources in Terrestrial Hermit Crabs

Lixin Yang

Mentor: Kimberly Monahan, NCSSM Biology Chair and Biology Instructor

Project Title: The Effects of Small Molecules Jh-RE-06 and T2AA on Mutagenic Translesion Synthesis in Arabidopsis thaliana

Andrew Zhen

Mentor: Bob Gotwals, NCSSM Chemistry Instructor

Project Title: Disentangling the Spatio-Temporal Heterogeneity of Alzheimer’s Disease Using a Novel Deep Predictive Clustering Network

*NCSSM would also like to congratulate NCSSM Online student Dev Chheda, of Ardrey Kell High School, on being named a scholar. Dev is doing his research independently, working with researchers at MIT. 

The full list of scholars can be viewed here.

To follow NCSSM’s scholars through the rest of the competition, visit https://www.societyforscience.org/regeneron-sts/