Beaverton teens win thousands at national STEM competition
Two teenagers in the Beaverton area won big at a recent national STEM competition.
Gopal Goel, who lives in Bethany, won the fourth-place prize of $100,000 at this year's Regeneron Science Talent Search. In eighth place, Jesuit High School student Wenjun Hou also won $60,000.
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 scientific leaders, according to the Society of Science.
Goel's project included math research that made connections between two subjects about randomness and probability. Past research showed that there was a previous connection between these two concepts, but Goel found that the connection is much more general in nature.
He also worked on the project prior to entering the competition.
"I had worked on it a lot and was even able to publish it in a journal," Goel said. "So, I saw that there was a competition for high school research, so I might as well give it a shot."
Overall, it took two years for Goel to finish his project.
He believes his work can be useful to researchers in the fields of nuclear physics, quantum field theory and meteorology. Goel hopes his work will help in the search of the true nature of quantum gravity, more commonly known as "the theory of everything."
The 17-year-old also participated in a high school math research program through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Goel was paired up with a graduate student to research and guide him through background knowledge of various concepts.
Most people Goel's age wouldn't find math fun, but the Bethany resident says math and research is a fascinating new way of thinking.
"I was doing a lot of math in high school but then I sort of felt like search was sort of the next step that I could take," he said. "A lot of the math that I was doing was fun… and research is kind of like a new way to explore math."
As for when he won the $100,000 prize, which was announced March 17, Goel says he was over the moon with excitement.
"I was very surprised, because I wasn't expecting to win," said Goel. "There was just so many amazing projects, but I was really excited and happy."
Maya Ajmera, the president and chief executive officer of Society for Science and Publisher of Science News, congratulated Goel on his efforts.
"Gopal is an inspiring young mathematician who found a new way of applying random matrix theory, which may have an impact on fields ranging from nuclear physics to meteorology," said Ajmera. "We can't wait to see what he tackles next."
Hou, the eighth-place winner from Jesuit High School, used quantum computing to solve a well-known computer science problem called the "knapsack problem."
The problem gets its name from a scenario where, given a set of items with specific weights and assigned values, the goal is to maximize the value in a knapsack while remaining within the weight constraint, according to Educative.io.
Hou not only wrote a new quantum algorithm, but he also designed quantum hardware to implement the central component of his algorithm. His work is believed to be the first time that has ever been done, according to a news release by the competition.
"I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to such an important frontier of technology because the quantum computing field is projected to intersect in our daily lives in several decades," said Hou, who is 18. "As quantum computers and quantum hardware gets easier to make, we'll be able to make quantum devices like quantum phones."
The high school senior has been working on this project since his sophomore year. He also worked with a Portland State University professor to jump-start his research in quantum computing.
When asked about advice for younger students hoping to compete in STEM competitions, Hou said, "Think of a field you're interested in and find professors at a university near you. A lot of professors, more than you would think, are actually looking for high schoolers who are interested in science and are passionate even with little prior experience."
He also recommends doing research for fun and not just for competition. As for a dream career, Hou hopes to one day own his own company after attending college.
"We are impressed by (Hou's) brilliant research … and we are eager to see what else he will accomplish," Ajmera said.
Both students plan to use their prize money towards college. Hou hopes to also donate some funds to Jesuit High School for helping him with this education.
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