Introducing the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 Finalists — Here’s Why These 40 Young Scientists Just Might Change the World.

By George D. Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., Founding Scientist, President & Chief Scientific Officer, Regeneron; Science Talent Search 1976 Winner

fffffffffffRegeneron President and Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos takes a selfie with Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 finalists.

Think back to when you were in high school. Who did you idolize? Who were your heroes? Did you have an experience that changed your life?

Growing up in a poor immigrant family in New York City in the 1970s, I was like other kids: I idolized sports stars and dreamed of playing football for the Giants, or baseball for the Yankees. Then I took a test for specialized high schools and found out I scored high enough to go to the Bronx High School of Science. This school changed my life. At first, I was disappointed to find out the school did not even have a football team — but then I learned that students in this high school idolized Nobel Prize winners (having produced more of them than any university in the world) instead of sports stars, and that the heroes walking the hallways weren’t the jocks, but those who competed in something called the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. This was an elite competition to find the greatest young scientific minds in the country. Winners would go on to make groundbreaking inventions, cure diseases, and maybe even change the world. I wanted to be like them, and this gave me a new goal and a new dream.

After a lot of hard work and help from my mentor, I was lucky enough to become a Westinghouse Science Talent Search winner in 1976, which jump-started my career in science, leading to my role as Founding Scientist of Regeneron and to eventually being called “one of the world’s top drughunters”.

17-year-old George Yancopoulos presents his winning research project,“Molecular Basis of Regeneration in Blepharisma,” at the Science Talent Search in 1976.

Today I have the great honor of congratulating 40 brilliant young scientists who are the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 finalists. These students are still my heroes 40 years later. I am so proud and excited for them — especially because I know first-hand how participating in this competition can have a lasting impact on one’s life and career, and potentially even provide the opportunity to change the world.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search, founded and produced by Society for Science & the Public, is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious math and science competition for high school seniors. Presidents have called the program the “Super Bowl of Science.” The Science Talent Search was supported for more than 50 years by Westinghouse, and for about 20 years by Intel. Regeneron took on the Science Talent Search this year, in the 75th year of the program.

A little more than a decade after I competed, I joined with Dr. Leonard S. Schleifer, a fellow Science Talent Search alum (1970), to start a biotechnology company called Regeneron. Together, our incredible team has gone on to discover important new medicines that have already helped thousands of people — and will hopefully go on to help many more — with serious conditions including vision loss, cancer, heart disease and allergic diseases.

George (top row, sixth from left) with his fellow Science Talent Search winners.

The Science Talent Search inspired Len and me to embark on our paths in science, but just as importantly, taught us the importance of engaging and supporting the development of exceptional young scientific minds. We want the world to celebrate these kids as heroes, just as we do — they represent the best innovators society has to offer in the war against disease, climate change, and other threats to our very existence. To support this mission, this year Regeneron became the new sponsor of the Science Talent Search with a 10-year, $100 million commitment, and has nearly doubled the competition’s overall award distribution to $3.1 million annually. As part of the sponsorship, Regeneron has also dedicated $30 million to Society for Science & the Public programs that increase access to STEM education and resources for all young people — including underrepresented populations and low-income students — in order to expand and diversify the STEM talent pool.

This year’s 40 finalists represent the nation’s brightest young scientific minds, and were chosen from a pool of roughly 300 Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars that had been carefully selected from more than 1,700 extraordinary applicants. These outstanding finalists demonstrate scientific curiosity and a desire to make a difference in the world. They have developed innovative solutions to real-world challenges. Their research addresses issues that challenge professional scientists more than twice their age, from how to use machine learning for lung cancer detection, to a dissection of how gender stereotypes alter our memories, to addressing the potentially catastrophic drop in the honeybee population. In today’s society, more than ever, we need heroes who are aspiring to solve these tough challenges that will improve our world.

So today’s finalists may be young, but keep a close eye on them: before you know it, they’ll be publishing groundbreaking research, curing diseases and making new discoveries about our world and our place in the universe. How do I know? As a former Science Talent Search finalist, I’ve had decades to watch my fellow alums make contributions in a wide range of STEM fields — these kids were my heroes and my inspiration 40 years ago, driving me to try to excel at their level, and they remain my inspiration and hope for the future today.

On March 9–15, the Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists will travel to Washington, D.C. to undergo a rigorous judging process carried out by leading scientists; they will also have the opportunity to display their research for the public, and meet with national leaders. The week will culminate in the distribution of almost $2 million in top awards — including $250,000 to the first place winner — designed to motivate the finalists to pursue their interest in science and become the innovators who will solve our world’s greatest challenges. We have no doubt they are up to the task: Science Talent Search alumni have received more than 100 of the world’s most esteemed science and math honors, including 12 Nobel Prizes, 11 National Medals of Science, two Fields Medals, 18 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, 30 elected members to the National Academy of Sciences, and four Breakthrough Prizes; past winners have also excelled as game-changing entrepreneurs and inventors.

Celebrating science, then and now: Science Talent Search finalists visit the White House in 1976…
… and in 2015, meeting with President Obama.

We are beyond proud to support this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search, and give back to a program that has given us so much. We hope you will join us in congratulating the finalists on this remarkable achievement, and joining us in the hope that they will make a difference in our future. And don’t forget to tell every bright young kid you know — become a scientist and change the world!

The full list of finalists is available at https://student.societyforscience.org/regeneronsts-finalists-2017.

For the latest Regeneron Science Talent Search news, visit https://student.societyforscience.org/regeneron-sts and follow Society for Science & the Public on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (Society4Science).