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St. Francis student named finalist for 'Junior Nobel Prize'


Courtesy of the Karthik Family
Ananya Karthik was among 40 finalists out of nearly 2,000 applicants in the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition for the “Junior Nobel Prize.” Karthik is scheduled to compete in Washington, D.C., this week.

A 2 percent finalist rate. Awards totaling $1.8 million. The opportunity to present original scientific research in front of a panel of leading scientists and members of the U.S. Congress.

These are all features of the annual Regeneron Science Talent Search, a competition in which St. Francis High School senior Ananya Karthik was recently named a finalist for what is known among scientists as the “Junior Nobel Prize.”

Karthik was among nearly 2,000 high school seniors who applied to Regeneron STS through an extensive process that included conducting original research accompanied by a 10-page research paper. From that group, 300 were named “scholars” and awarded $2,000, an amount their schools’ science programs received as well. Of those scholars, 40 were named finalists – including Karthik.

“I’m so excited to be part of this incredibly diverse and talented group of people,” the Sunnyvale resident said.

Finalists received an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they competed for awards provided by Regeneron – the biotechnology company sponsoring the competition – this week.

First place receives $250,000; no finalist will walk away with less than $25,000.

“These amazing young people have demonstrated an exceptional degree of hard work and passion for discovery. We are inspired by their brilliant thinking, and look forward to continue supporting them in their scientific endeavors,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science & the Public, in a press release.

Society for Science & the Public founded the STS in 1942 to provide a national stage for the country’s best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized, professional scientists. It is the nation’s oldest science and math competition for high school seniors, spanning nearly eight decades.

STS alumni have gone on to win 13 Nobel Prizes, 13 National Medals of Science and five Breakthrough Prizes, as well as 42 becoming National Academy of Sciences Members and 19 earning MacArthur Foundation Fellow honors.

Advancing innovation

Karthik is not the first member of her family to enter the competition – or become a finalist. Her older sister, St. Francis High graduate Anjini, reached the finals in 2016.

“(My sister) told me how inspiring the program is,” Karthik said. “I was excited to apply and have the opportunity to join such an amazing community of student researchers.”

Karthik’s research project, titled “Ultrasonic Drug Uncaging from Polymeric Perfluoropentane Nanoparticles,” seeks to address the need for a new approach toward noninvasive, targeted drug delivery to the brain, or a technology that can deliver the right drug to the right location at the right time.

She developed biodegradable, ultrasound-sensitive nanoparticles that encapsulate and release different drugs precisely when hit by focused ultrasound waves to minimize off-target side effects. Potential applications of her research include enhanced treatments for psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

Karthik said she is excited to be part of the select group of students with diverse interests and talents in science. She also looked forward to traveling to Washington, D.C., to share her work with members of Congress, scientists and the public.

“In the future, I aim to continue my involvement in scientific research and also participate in advisory committees in order to help advance innovation with a conscience,” said Karthik, who will attend Stanford University in the fall. “I hope to collaborate with thought leaders worldwide to make an impact on society through my work and build multidisciplinary conversations about the social, legal and ethical implications of new scientific and technological advancements.”

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