Washington, DC: Amol Punjabi, 17, of Marlborough, Mass., and Maya Varma, 17, of Cupertino, Calif., were chosen as first-place winners, along with Paige Brown, 17, of Bangor, Maine, in the prestigious 75th anniversary of the Intel Science Talent Search competition. Second-place winners included Meena Jagadeesan, 17, of Naperville, Ill., and Milind Jagota, 18, of Bethlehem, Pa. Kunal Shroff and Kavya Ravichandran were third-place winners, winning in Basic Research and Innovation, respectively. Michael Zhang, 18, of Berwyn, Pa., and Nathan Charles Marshall, 17, of Boise, Idaho, won second and third place, respectively, in the Global Good category.
Overall, six Indian American teenage students were among the nine winners announced by the Intel and the Society for Science and the Public in a joint statement on March 15. Described to be among the most promising high school students and were celebrated for their scientific achievements in Washington, D.C, the winners walked away with the three first-, second- and third-place prizes of $150,000, $75,000 and $35,000, respectively.
Punjabi won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research in the prestigious competition. He developed software that could help drug makers develop new therapies for cancer and heart disease. Punjabi is also the lead author of a paper on nanoparticles published in ACS Nano and co-author of a paper on a related topic in Nanoscale. He is also the lead pianist for his high school’s jazz workshop and captain of the Science Olympiad team.
Varma won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation. She used $35 worth of hobbyist electronics and free computer-aided design tools to create a low-cost, smartphone-based lung function analyzer that diagnoses lung disease as accurately as expensive devices currently used in medical laboratories.
Varma is proficient in five programming languages, holds leadership roles in multiple honor societies and science and math clubs, and has won grand prizes in several prestigious science competitions. “The Society congratulates Amol, Paige and Maya,” said Society for Science and the Public president and chief executive Maya Ajmera, who is also a Science Talent Search alumna. “They and the rest of the top winners of Intel STS 2016 are using science and technology to help address the problems they see in the world and will be at the forefront of creating the solutions we need for the future.”
Jagadeesan won in Basic Research for investigating an object in algebraic combinatorics, or the mathematics of counting, to reveal a novel relationship between classes of graphs. Jagota won in Innovation as he studied the performance of random nanowire networks as a less costly alternative to the transparent conductors now used in touchscreen devices.
Shroff, 17, of Great Falls, Va., discovered new relationships between the key protein associated with Huntington’s disease and the biological processes of cellular death that cause Huntington’s symptoms. His work may lead to new treatments. Ravichandran, 17, of Westlake, Ohio, studied the use of nanomedicine to destroy potentially fatal blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
The winners were pared down from 1,750 entrants. The six Indian American winners came from a list of 40 finalists, which included 14 Indian Americans and South Asians. Indian Americans and South Asians accounted for 70 of the 300 semifinalists named in the competition.