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Three Indian Americans win medals at the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search final

Top 3 prizes elude the 13 Indian American finalists.

By Raif Karerat

WASHINGTON, DC: Three Indian Americans have won medals at the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious pre-college science and math competition.

Along with the other winners, the trio will meet President Barack Obama at the White House today before departing Washington D.C., where the final was held.

While they each garnered outstanding individual awards, neither Saran Prembabu, Shashwat Kishore, or Anvita Gupta could lay claim to the three top awards, which have traditionally been dominated by Indian Americans in years past.

Saranesh “Saran” Thanika Prembabu, of San Ramon, California, won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation and a $75,000 prize. Saran studied how varying the layers in nanocrystal structures can affect their electrical and magnetic properties, which could be harnessed for a variety of electrical and computing applications. The 17-year-old’s discovery will help improve the efficiency of electronic data storage.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” said Prembabu to the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m really honored to have been given this award.”

Shashwat Kishore of West Chester, Pennsylvania, won the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research. Shashwat’s math project focused on representing abstract algebras using matrices. The 18-year-old’s work developed a new relationship between those matrices and topology.

Kishore is truly passionate about his favorite field, and told Philly.com that the math itself serves as an ample reward.

“I like math because I feel that it is both elegant and powerful,” he said. “To me, it’s amazing that we have entire bodies of theory that are rigorously proven from scratch.”

Anvita Gupta, 17, of Scottsdale, Arizona, won the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good. Anvita used machine learning to “teach” a computer to identify potential drugs for cancer, tuberculosis and Ebola. Preclinical trials are already underway in China on the tuberculosis drugs that she identified.

When asked by BusinessWire how she first gained an interest in STEM-related fields, Anvita credited certain toys that were gifted to her as a child.

“My interest in math and science was piqued by playing with and learning to program LEGO Mindstorm robots that I received for my birthday,” she explained.

Both Anvita and Kishore, as third-place medal winners, are slated to receive awards of $35,000 each.

Of the 40 high school seniors who competed in the final, 13 were of Indian American descent.

In total, the competition — which encourages students to tackle challenging scientific questions and create technologies and solutions to help make people’s lives better — awarded $1.6 million in prize money to this year’s winners.

Noah Golowich, Andrew Jin and Michael Hofmann Winer each received first-place awards of $150,000.

Golowich, 17, of Lexington, Massachusetts, won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research, which recognizes finalists who demonstrate exceptional scientific potential through depth of research and analysis. He developed a proof in the area of Ramsey theory, a field of mathematics based on finding types of structure in large and complicated systems. He is the captain of his high school math team, plays for his high school tennis team and plays jazz piano in his spare time.

Jin, 17, of San Jose, California, won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good, which rewards finalists who demonstrate great scientific potential through their passion to make a difference. He developed a machine learning algorithm to identify adaptive mutations across the human genome. By analyzing massive public genomic datasets, his system discovered more than 100 adaptive mutations related to immune response, metabolism, brain development and schizophrenia in real DNA sequences. Understanding the genetic causes of these diseases is an important first step toward developing gene therapies or vaccines. He is an accomplished pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall.

Winer, 18, of North Bethesda, Maryland, won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation, which celebrates finalists who demonstrate the problem-solving aptitude of an engineer through innovative design and creativity. He studied how fundamental quasi-particles of sound, called phonons, interact with electrons. His work could potentially be applied to more complex atomic structures such as superconductors. He was a silver medalist at the 2014 International Physics Olympiad, where he was the top-scoring U.S. student on the theoretical exam.

Prembabu was one amongst three second place prize winners; the other two being Brice Huang and Kalia D. Firester.

Huang, 17, of Princeton Junction, New Jersey, won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research. Brice extended previous mathematical research on power ideals – linear functions of variables raised to some power – and was able to calculate the power ideal’s series of dimension for a larger class of ideals than has previously been possible.

Firester, 17, of New York City, won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good. Kalia studied how a protein produced by nematodes, which are crop-destroying parasites, interacts with a plant’s cells and defenses. Her research may contribute to engineering natural immunity to repel a pest that costs global agriculture $100 billion annually.

Kishore and Gupta were joined by Catherine Li, 18, of Orlando, Florida, who won the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation. She developed a new fiber-based method of fabricating microscopic particles designed for drug delivery, with potential applications in personalized cancer therapy.

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