Indian American wins top prize in nation’s most prestigious science competition
Neel Moudgal, 17, of Saline, Michigan, won the top $250,000 award in the 2023 Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.
Two other Indian Americans were among the top ten winners.
The announcement was made jointly by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Society for Science (the Society), March 14, 2023.
Moudgal won for creating a computer model that can rapidly and reliably predict the structure of RNA molecules using only easily accessible data. He believes this will make it easier to diagnose and treat certain diseases.
At Saline High School, Moudgal is captain of the varsity quiz bowl team, a programmer for the robotics team and a teacher’s assistant for special needs children. The son of Varsha and Vivek Moudgal, he is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo.
Moudgal is first author of an article on his work in Journal of Physical Chemistry A, and worked on a review paper on oxygen evolution reaction electrocatalysis for carbon dioxide reduction.
Among the ‘fun facts’ about Moudgal, he has been an avid rock and mineral collector since age six and has hundreds of unique specimens from around the world. He credits studying minerals for his love of chemistry and geology.
Ambika Grover, 17, of Greenwich, Conn., received an $80,000 award, and came in 6th place, for developing an injectable layered microbubble designed to target and break up blood clots and prevent them from reforming. She believes this can be used to restore the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the brains of ischemic stroke victims.
At Greenwich High School, Grover is president of the Girls Who Code Club, the economics club and the debate team and is one of 12 debaters selected from 140,000 to compete internationally with the USA Debate Team. The daughter of Jyoti and Rahul Grover, she also plays the viola in a string quartet.
Grover, who sees herself one day conducting cardiovascular disease research, has applied for a patent for her microbubble. She already has a provisional patent for research using nitric oxide in exhaled breath as a marker for exposure to pollution.
Grover hopes to minor in economics in college and enjoys exploring the intersectionality of economics and related fields such as technology.
Siddhu Pachipala, 18, of The Woodlands, Texas, received a $50,000 award, coming in 9th place, for using machine learning to analyze journal entries as a way to gauge patients’ suicide risk. His work suggests that the semantics in an individual’s writing could be correlated with their psychological health and risk of suicide. Pachipala was also named the Seaborg Award winner and given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Regeneron Science Talent Search Class of 2023. The 40 finalists chose Siddhu 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.
Pachipala attends The Woodlands College Park High School. The son of Sharmila Naidu and Krishna Pachipala, he also works as a research intern for the University of California’s EdgeLab. He has researched political party affiliation and belief polarization, and has also developed an ASL interpreter that accounts for ethnic dialects.
The competition, now in its 82nd year, as in other years, included a wide range of scientific topics from cancer research to climate change to the space race and more. Forty finalists, including Moudgal, were honored during a livestreamed award ceremony emceed by American Broadcaster Soledad O’Brien. More than $1.8 million was awarded to the finalists, who were evaluated based on their projects’ scientific rigor, their exceptional problem-solving abilities and their potential to become leaders in STEM.
The 2nd place winner who took home $175,000 was Emily Ocasio, 18, of Fairfax, Va., who used artificial intelligence to determine whether humanizing language was used by the Boston Globe in the years spanning 1976-84 when describing homicide victims. She found that Black victims received less humanizing coverage than white victims.
“Congratulations to the winners of the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2023,” Maya Ajmera, president and CEO, Society for Science and Executive Publisher, Science News, is quoted saying in the press release. “These young leaders are the stewards of our future. I am in awe of their creativity and conviction.”
“Congratulations to the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2023 winners, and to all our impressive finalists,” said George D. Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron, and a 1976 Science Talent Search finalist and top winner.
All other finalists received $25,000. All 40 finalists will join the ranks of other Science Talent Search alumni, many of whom have gone on to have world-changing careers in STEM fields, and won other prizes, the press release said.