Could these students provide the science breakthroughs of the future?

Story highlights

Finalists of US student science competition are all aged between 16 and 18 years

Alumni of the competition have gone on to win 13 Nobel Prizes and an Oscar

The winner will be announced on March 13

CNN  — 

The top 40 finalists have been named for the Regeneron Science Talent Search, a highly prestigious US-based competition that scouts out the nation’s most promising high school scientists.

Alumni of the Science Talent Search, founded in 1942, include 13 Nobel Prize winners. One of these is Leon Cooper, who won the physics prize in 1972, whose name was later borrowed by creators of “The Big Bang Theory” for their resident know-it-all Sheldon Cooper. The competition can even boast of an Oscar-winner in its midst, as Natalie Portman was a semifinalist in the 1998.

This year’s finalists, whittled down from a pool of 1,800 entrants, all received $25,000 awards, and are now competing for prizes up to $250,000. The prize fund has nearly doubled this year, totaling $3.1 million.

Though all the finalists are chosen from schools in the US, it as far from US-centric. Many are striving to tackle problems of great global importance – be it climate change, medicine, space science or computing.

Kavya Kopparapu

Finalist 17-year-old Kavya Kopparapu has developed a tool called GlioVision, which she says will help tackle gliobastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, by generating vital information about tumors in seconds, from just a biopsy slide.

Syamantak Payra

Syamantak Payra, aged 16, has devised another potential medical breakthrough with his smart bionic leg brace. So far, the tests are positive, he says, claiming the brace restored the walking gait of a polio patient’s paralyzed leg.

Yet the entries are by no means all medical. Raley Schweinfurth, 18 years old, launched a three-year investigation into the effect of insecticides on the gradually-diminishing bee population. Her results give insight into the length of time honey samples might be contaminated, and a possible solution for removing the insecticide from infected areas.

Raley Schweinfurth

One finalist has even invented an algorithm to speed up traffic. Alice Zhang, aged 17, has developed a system that detects approaching cars and allows them through depending on the real-time situation. It allows cars to pass, so long as there’s no risk of them colliding, and prioritizes those that have been queuing for longer.

Nitya Parthasarathy’s proposal is equally suited to the 21st century: a “spell check” for gender stereotypes. She created algorithms, based on artificial intelligence, that automatically identify biased language in text. What’s more, Parthasarathy says the algorithms can also recognize whether a certain behavior tends to be associated with a gender.

All 40 finalists will travel to Washington D.C. in March for a rigorous judging process. The winners will be announced on March 13.