The Regeneron Science Talent Search (Regeneron STS) is the oldest and most prestigious of student science competitions. Finalists win purses that add up to nearly $2 million from the Society for Science and the Public, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. The competition is open to any high school senior who is a U.S. citizen, in the United States, its territories, or abroad.
The 2018 Regeneron STS finals took place in early March. Forty finalists were awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to an awards gala, where they explain their original research to panels of scientists for judging.
This year, the winner was Benjamin Firester, 18, from New York City. He won first prize and the $250,000 grand prize for a mathematical disease prediction model. The disease he tracked was the late blight fungus, the cause of the Irish Potato Famine. While commonly thought a part of history, the disease continues to cause billions of dollars in crop damage every year.
Firester’s model uses existing blight locations and detailed weather data to model routes by which blight will spread in a given crop season. He hopes that predicting infection sites will both arm farmers against loses and help reduce unnecessary use of fungicide.
The runner-up was Natalia Orlovsky, 17. She won $175,000 for research into the safety of vaping. Her studies found that fluids containing nicotine continued to cause a potent stress response regardless of the claimed safety comparisons.
Taking third place, Isani Singh won $150,000 for studying the chromosomes of women with Turner Syndrome at the embryonic level. She hopes her work will help doctors and patients better prepare for the medical complications of Turner Syndrome.
Along with the seven other winners, the best of the Regeneron STS finalists together won $1.8 million in awards. Aside from the finalists, three hundred more participants won $2,000 for their own research and $2,000 more for their schools.