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Indian American Neel Moudgal Wins Top Prize at Prestigious Science and Math Competition for High School Seniors

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  • The 17-year-old from Saline, Michigan, won first place at the Regeneron Science Talent Search for developing a computer model to predict the structure of various RNA molecules.

An Indian American teen has won the top $250,000 prize in the 2023 Regeneron Science Talent Search, billed as “the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.” The competition, now in its 82nd year, celebrates and rewards young scientists focused on a wide range of scientific topics from the space race to the AIDS epidemic to climate change.

Neel Moudgal, 17, of Saline, Michigan, won first place for developing a computer model that can rapidly and reliably predict the structure of various RNA molecules to facilitate the development of novel diagnostics and therapeutic drugs for diseases such as cancer, autoimmune diseases and viral infections. He was among 40 finalists chosen based on their projects’ scientific rigor and their potential to become world-changing scientific leaders.

A senior at Saline High School, Moudgal, the son of Varsha and Vivek Moudgal is captain of the varsity quiz bowl team, a programmer for the robotics team and a teacher’s assistant for special needs children, according to his Regeneron profile. He is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo. The first author of an article on his work in the Journal of Physical Chemistry A, Moudgal has worked on a review paper on oxygen evolution reaction electrocatalysis for carbon dioxide reduction.

Neel Moudgal.
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Emily Ocasio, 18, of Fairfax, Virginia won second place, while the third place went to Ellen Xu, 17, of San Diego, California. Ocasio used artificial intelligence to determine whether humanizing language was used by the Boston Globe in the years spanning 1976-84 when describing homicide victims. Xu developed an algorithm that uses a smartphone photo of the patient to aid in the diagnosis of Kawasaki disease, the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children between one and five.

“Congratulations to the winners of the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2023,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society for Science and Executive Publisher of Science News. “These young leaders are the stewards of our future. I am in awe of their creativity and conviction.”

The sixth-place winner was Ambika Grover, 17, of Greenwich, Connecticut. She received an $80,000 award 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 brain.

Siddhu Pachipala, 18, of The Woodlands, Texas, won 9th place and was also named the Seaborg Award winner. He was given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Regeneron Science Talent Search Class of 2023. The 40 finalists chose him 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. His 9th place win made him eligible for a $50,000 award for using machine learning to analyze journal entries as a way to gauge patients’ suicide risk.