Senior Wins Big at Regeneron, ISEF
For the second year in a row, a TJ student was not only chosen as one of forty finalists by the judges of the nation’s most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors, the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS), but was also selected as a top winner from among this elite group. At a gala event held on March 14th at Washington, DC’s National Building Museum, Prathik Naidu, TJ ’17, received a 7th place prize and $70,000 for his project, “DNALoopR: A Novel High-Performance Machine Learning Predictor to Identify Genome-Wide 3D DNA Interactions in Cancer.” Last year, Kunal Shroff, TJ ’16, received the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research and a $35,000 prize for his Intel STS project (see June 2016 issue).
Formerly sponsored by Intel, and before that by Westinghouse, the Regeneron competition has a 76-year history of recognizing promising students, many of whom go on to make significant contributions to research in disciplines that range from Mathematics and Physics to Medicine & Health and Behavioral & Social Sciences. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company founded by two former competition participants, took over as the competition sponsor last May. The company’s 10-year, $100 million commitment is being used to double the prize money awarded to both semifinalists and top winners and to dramatically step up outreach efforts.
Two months later, at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles, Prathik received the Best of Category Award and First Award in the Computational Biology & Bioinformatics category, along with the Dudley R. Herschbach SIYSS Award, an invitation to present his project at a global multi-disciplinary seminar (see ISEF, below). Prathik was also selected as one of two Presidential Scholars from Virginia (the other was TJ senior Violet Felt).
Prathik’s DNALoopR software uses machine learning to accurately predict 3D DNA interactions in the cancer genome, which can help improve our understanding of cancer as well as discover targetable pathways for next-generation cancer therapies. He not only developed the first machine learning method for DNA loop prediction, one that allows scientists to pinpoint exact DNA regions where loops form with a high degree of accuracy and sensitivity and a low false positive rate, but he also validated those predictions and used them to identify a novel set of genes impacted by DNA loop formation.
Prathik conducted the research for his Regeneron STS project while a participant at MIT’s summer Research Science Institute (RSI), a highly selective program that combines theoretical course work with lab internships (see Aug 2016 issue). As a Computational Genomics research intern in the Aryee Lab at the Broad Institute, Prathik perfected his cancer prediction software, implementing novel engineering and optimization steps to improve its performance. The judges who reviewed all of the RSI student papers selected Prathik’s as a top-ten project (see a video of his RSI presentation, with Q&A).
The previous summer, Prathik interned at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he analyzed the mutation profiles of 31 cancer types and implemented statistical algorithms to extrapolate population-level patterns from limited data points. He also conducted research over two summers in labs at Johns Hopkins. In fact, Prathik was applying computational techniques to biological data even before he arrived at TJ. Prathik’s extensive early research experience resulted in a Grand Prize at the Regional Fair and a chance to attend ISEF as a sophomore (see June 2015 newsletter).
As the only high-school student attending the flagship meeting for the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) in Dublin, Ireland, he realized what could be accomplished if other young people applied their computational skills to solving problems in biology and other fields. Aiming to inspire other middle and high school students to apply computer science to real-world problems, he worked with the ISCB to organize the first Youth Bioinformatics Symposium, which brought nearly 100 students to George Mason University for a day-long conference. A second annual Symposium is planned for this coming fall.
Prathik has also applied his computational expertise to ancient languages. He founded The Classics Project to simplify the learning of classical languages, encourage the study of Latin among elementary and middle schoolers, and use computational methods to analyze and understand ancient texts. Through the Project, he has also led veterans in the reading of “The Odyssey” and “The Aeneid.” He recently created Project Mercury, a mobile app that helps archaeologists quickly analyze ancient inscriptions, and submitted it to the MIT Inspire Awards, a national research competition in arts, humanities, and social sciences now entering its fourth year. In April, his project won First Place in the competition’s Arts & Architecture category, along with its Mozart Award for Most Original Research that comes with a $5,000 prize.
Prathik credits TJ with encouraging both his research efforts and his interdisciplinary studies: “Working on computational biology projects over the past four years has pushed me to think creatively about important problems in health care, which has definitely contributed to my interest in pursuing both computer science and biology in college. Being in an environment like TJ that’s focused on applying knowledge outside of the classroom is what motivated me to start pursuing research and trying to make an impact in the scientific community. I [also] love how even at a STEM school like TJ, the teachers and opportunities here are so open to integrating computer science and the humanities,” he said.
Senior Eric Liu Is Regeneron Scholar
Eric Liu, TJ ’17, was recognized as a Regeneron STS Scholar (the category formerly known as “semifinalist”) for his project, “Examining Antibiotic Modulation of the Gut Microbiome and Mycobiome in Cirrhotics with Hepatic Encephalopathy.”
Big Three Research Competitions at a Glance
Regeneron: National; individuals only; seniors only; submissions due in November; awards of $2,000 to $250,ooo
Siemens: National; individuals & groups; all classes; submissions due in September; scholarships range from $1,000 to $100,000
Intel ISEF: International, individuals & groups; all classes; submissions due in February, with advancement via local, regional, and state Science Fairs; awards up to $75,000
Senior Lauryn Wu Is Siemens National Finalist
It was another great year for TJ student competitors in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. Each fall, students from all over the country submit projects as individuals or in teams of up to three to compete for regional awards in six geographic regions, including TJ’s, which is based at Georgia Tech. This year, TJ students submitted nearly 50 projects, a sizeable percentage of the 1,600 submitted to the competition. Nineteen TJ student projects were selected as semifinalist projects (involving 32 TJ semifinalists), and three were selected as regional finalist projects (involving 5 TJ finalists). For the second year in a row, a TJ student was awarded first place in our region, advancing to the National Finals.
Lauryn Wu, TJ ’19, and her teammate, Yoshihiro Saito, who attends Marriotts Ridge HS in Howard County, Maryland, shared the team’s $6,000 scholarship for their Physics project, “New Discovery of Large Bulk Band Gap Topological Insulators in Chemically Functionalized Two-Dimensional Compounds.”
Four Other Students Are Siemens Regional Finalists
The following two TJ student teams also competed in the Regional Finals:
- Kelly Cho, TJ ’18, Harriet Khang, TJ ’18, and Shinbe Choi (McLean High School) for their Biochemistry project, “All-in-one Biosensor for the Prevention of Arrhythmias through the 2-min Analyses of Coagulation Factors” (mentor, Dr. Jihoon Lee, CEO, Luminescent)
- Elizabeth Ling, TJ ’19, and Richard Lun, TJ ’19, for their Materials Science project, “Searching for New Lead-free Organic Perovskite Photovoltaics” (mentor, Dr. Xuan Luo, Principal Investigator, National Graphene Research & Development Center)
Meet TJ’s Siemens National and Regional Finalists in tjTODAY (Nov 2016).
Several TJ Students Win at Intel ISEF
The International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), sponsored by Intel, is the world’s largest international science competition for pre-college students. Held this year in Los Angeles from May 14-19, ISEF welcomed 1,778 students from 78 countries, regions and territories, including two individuals and three teams from TJ:
Prathik Naidu, TJ ’17 (see above), Best of Category Award of $5,000 and First Award of $3,000 in the Computational Biology & Bioinformatics category; Regional Grand Award
Siona Prasad, TJ ’19, Estimating CO2 and CH4 Emissions from Washington DC Using Low Cost Sensors and Small Drone Technology, Second Award of $1,500 in Earth and Environmental Sciences; Regional Grand Award
Kavya Kopparapu, TJ ’18, Neeyanth Kopparapu, TJ ’20, and Justin Zhang, TJ ’18, Inexpensive Mobile Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy Using Deep Learning, Third Award of $1,000 in Translational Medical Science; State Fair Second Grand Prize
Nikhil Sardana, TJ ’18, and Mihir Patel, TJ ’18, “Automating Identification of Terrorist Recruitment on Social Media,” Regional Fair Grand Prize in Systems Software
Yashasvi Bolisetty, TJ ’18, Nithin Dass, TJ ’18, and Srinidhi Krishnamurthy, TJ ’18, “Using a RBF Kernel SVM, DWT, and PID on an EEG Controlled Exoskeleton,” Governor’s Award and State Fair Grand Prize in Engineering: Electrical and Mechanical
The journey to ISEF begins at TJ’s Science & Engineering Fair and continues from there to the Regional Fair. Regional Grand Prize winners automatically advance to ISEF, but Regional First Prize winners are eligible to compete at the state level, from which State Grand Prize winners also advance. Kavya Kopparapu, whose team won a Third Award and several sponsored awards at ISEF (as well as a First Place Award at the 2017 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge using the team name Ocular), credits Dr. Glazer with encouraging her team members when they needed it most — after they had failed to win a Grand Prize Award at Regionals and were close to giving up.
Kavya, whose ISEF-winning team includes her freshman brother, Neeyanth, also acknowledged the TJ Partnership Fund for helping to make her team’s work possible: “[TJ Energy Systems Lab Director] Mr. Piccione always joked that I used a lot of 3D-printer plastic for my project models (which is undeniably true). TJ has given me the opportunity to use such cool technologies for free, which I actually mentioned to the category judges when they inquired how I, as a high school student, had access to multiple types of 3D printers and sophisticated hardware to run the classifying algorithms. This is why my brother and I are planning on giving the prize money we won back to the Partnership Fund, so that in the future another student discovering the wonders of the technology can have access to it, just like we did for our project.”
Senior Wins High School Computing Prize
In March, Senior Elizabeth Hu was selected as a winner of the Cutler-Bell Prize in High School Computing for her geographically explicit agent-based model for studying refugee migration patterns. Unlike traditional migration models, her model attempts to account for individual differences and decision-making processes. Along with the award, Elizabeth received a $10,000 scholarship.
TJ Team Invited to International Conference
A team of TJ seniors presented their engineering project,“Hardware Module-Based Message Authentication in Intra-Vehicle Networks,” at the 2017 International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems in Pittsburgh in mid-April. They worked on their vehicle cybersecurity project over two summers at George Mason University’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) under the mentorship of Assistant Professor Kai Zeng and doctoral candidate Songsong Liu of GMU’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. The team members, who were recognized as Siemens Semifinalists both years, were very excited to be the only high school students attending this prestigious and important conference.
Five TJ Students Participate in MIT PRIMES Conference
Five TJ students presented their mathematical research projects at the MIT PRIMES Conference in May. The MIT PRIMES program, which is designed to encourage high school students to consider research careers, includes the PRIMES-USA program for students from outside the Boston area. Five TJ students participated in this year-long program, in which students work on original math research projects mentored remotely by university math professors or by MIT graduate students:
Kyle Gatesman, TJ ’18, “An Algorithmic and Computational Approach to Optimizing Gerrymandering”
Joshua Lee, TJ ’18, “Coin Games and 5-Way Scales”
Aaditya Singh, TJ ’19, “Generalization of Some Properties of Discrete Curve Shortening Flow” (team project)
Franklyn Wang, TJ ’18, “Monodromy Groups of Indecomposable Rational Functions”
Jeffery Yu, TJ ’18, “Jacobian Groups of Biconnected Graphs”