Amber Luo, a senior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, placed third in the Regeneron Science Talent Search on Tuesday night, earning a $150,000 prize, contest organizers said.
Luo, 18, of Stony Brook, was the top finisher of the seven finalists from Long Island in the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science competition. They were among the 40 seniors who had been competing for prize money since Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Another Long Island finalist, Hailee Youn, 17, of Roslyn High School, was named the Seaborg Award winner and given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Regeneron Class of 2022.
Luo was honored for her development of a software called RiboBayes, a computational tool used to reveal how ribosomes move along a cell’s mRNA transcript to produce proteins, according to contest officials. Her work, she said, can enable researchers to gain a better view of underlying health conditions in a range of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Luo told Newsday earlier that she is “fascinated” with the intersection of math and biology. Her project represented the “first dive into the world of computational biology.” She conducted her research at Drexel University’s School of Biomedical Engineering in Philadelphia.
The top 10 finishers were announced at a gala around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. The students were chosen from among 1,804 applications received from 603 high schools across 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and eight countries. Finalists were selected from among 300 semifinalists chosen earlier this year. Each finalist automatically received $25,000.
“It was completely unbelievable,” Luo said late Tuesday. “It was a testament to how hard I worked in pursuing my passion in math and biology and I am so thankful for all my teachers and mentors who helped me get to this point.”
Luo gave a special shout out to her science Olympiad coach and teacher — Jennifer Serigano at Ward Melville High School who “first believed in me and fostered my passion for science.”
The competition was held in person under strict COVID-19 protocols in Washington, D.C., after virtual competitions in 2020 and 2021. The finalists were honored during a livestreamed award ceremony emceed by Saturday Night Live’s Melissa Villaseñor.
“For the first time in two years, we have been able to gather in person to celebrate the next generation of scientific leaders who are motivated by curiosity and inspired to solve the world’s most intractable problems,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science, publisher of Science News and a 1985 Science Talent Search alumna.
Regeneron selections are based on research skills, academics, innovation and promise as scientists. Long Island students’ projects covered a variety of topics, including studies on the Island’s salt marsh ecosystem, eye cancer, voting habits and COVID-19-induced stress.
Luo hasn’t selected her college yet, but said she would like to become a research professor and continue pursuing her interests in math and science. She heads the math team and Science Olympiad at her high school, and founded an educational STEM nonprofit called Illumina Learning that provides free online courses in biology, research and computing from accomplished high school scientists to aspiring young students.
For fun, Luo said she owns an Instagram dance cover account, where she posts videos of herself covering various K-pop dances, ranging from hip-hop boy-band songs to cute girl-group bubblegum pop.
“Dancing is an outlet of creativity for me, and it’s so relaxing to coordinate outfits, learn dances, and do my makeup after a long day of research,” she told Newsday earlier.
First place in the competition went to Christine Ye, of Sammamish, Washington, who won $250,000 for her project, which analyzed the gravitational waves emitted from collisions between neutron stars (collapsed super-dense stars) and black holes.
The finalists chose Youn, of Roslyn, as the student who most exemplifies their class and the extraordinary attributes of nuclear chemist Glenn T. Seaborg, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1951 and served on the Society’s Board of Trustees for 30 years. No additional money came with the honor.
Youn’s project examined the psychology behind voting habits.
Long Island’s other finalists were: Ethan Chiu and Rohan Ghotra, both of Syosset High School; Roberto Lopez of Brentwood High School, and Christopher Luisi and Desiree Rigaud, both of John F. Kennedy High School in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
Amber Luo, an 18-year-old senior from Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, placed third in the Regeneron Science Talent Search Tuesday night, earning a $150,000 prize.
Luo was the top finisher out of the seven student finalists from Long Island who were among 40 high school students competing in Washington, D.C. in the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science competition. Students were chosen from more than 1,804 applications.
Fascinated by the intersection of math and biology, she developed a computational tool that identifies pause sites along a cell’s mRNA transcripts. Her work, she said, can enable researchers to gain a better view of underlying conditions in a range of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.