What do Regeneron, Birchbox and CRISPR have in common?

Maya Ajmera
Jan 9 · 4 min read

What do the founders of Regeneron, one of Birchbox’s co-founders, and one of the inventors of CRISPR have in common? They are all alumni of the Science Talent Search (STS), the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

These impressive leaders in business and science demonstrated their passion for discovery and innovation at a young age, and their successes underscore the impact the Science Talent Search has on inspiring the pursuits of so many scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs — and, subsequently, on improving our world as a whole.

Consider these four examples:

George Yancopoulos (STS 1976) and Len Schleifer (STS 1970) together founded Regeneron, a leading science and technology company that delivers life-transforming medicines to people with serious diseases. Regeneron counts seven FDA-approved medicines to its name, with more in the pipeline. In 2016, Regeneron became the third sponsor of the Science Talent Search, following Westinghouse and Intel — thanks to George and Len’s commitment to supporting the next generation of scientific leaders.

Hayley Bay Barna (STS 2001) co-founded Birchbox, the original subscription beauty box, which launched a new industry. Not only did Birchbox disrupt the beauty industry by using technology in an innovative way to connect directly with consumers, but the company also developed an entirely new technology platform and subscription service that has been replicated many times over. Haley served as Co-CEO of Birchbox for five years, during which she helped grow the company to over a million monthly subscribers.

Feng Zhang (STS 2000) pioneered the development of genome editing tools for use in eukaryotic cells — including human cells — from natural microbial CRISPR systems. Feng leverages CRISPR and other methods to study the genetics and epigenetics of human diseases, and his lab’s tools — which he has made widely available — are being used in the fields of immunology, clinical medicine and cancer biology, among others.

Both Hayley and Feng are members of the Society’s Board of Trustees, helping to ensure that future generations of young people pursue science and engineering.

Our STS alumni have gone on to receive more than 100 of the world’s most esteemed science and math honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes, 42 National Academy of Sciences Members, 19 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 13 National Medals of Science and 5 Breakthrough Prize Winners. STS truly serves as the national stage for the country’s best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists.

What is this competition all about?

Now sponsored by Regeneron, the Science Talent Search was launched in 1942 to combat an issue that we are all too familiar with today — these many, many years later — we need to engage more students in science, technology, engineering and math.

In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world, we need to not only identify our nation’s next scientific leaders, but also support them and encourage them to continue to innovate. And at a time when schools are receiving fewer resources, competitions like the Regeneron Science Talent Search are increasingly important by fueling students’ creativity and rewarding them for their talent, curiosity and hard work. The young people who participate in STS will someday uncover the solutions to our most intractable problems, like climate change, world hunger and chronic disease.

Today, I am so pleased to be welcoming this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars, the next generation of scientific problem solvers. These exceptional students are true leaders and innovators — the top 300 young scientists in our country today. They have an enthusiasm and passion for STEM that I know will inspire them to do amazing things as they head to college and beyond. In an effort to support and award them for their enthusiasm and passion for STEM, each will receive $2,000, and their school science programs will also receive $2,000. I hope they are inspired to do amazing things as they head to college, and beyond.

Narrowing down these 300 amazing young scientists will be challenging, but on January 23, the top 40 students will be announced as the Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists. They will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., from March 7–13, during which they will undergo a rigorous judging process, interact with leading scientists, display their research for the public and meet with national leaders — all while competing for $1.8 million in awards, including a $250,000 top award.

Congratulations to these exceptional young people! I can’t wait to see what the future holds, and how they’ll follow in the footsteps of alumni like George, Len, Hayley and Feng.

Regeneron Science Talent Search

Regeneron Science Talent Search, a program of the Society for Science & the Public, identifying the nation’s most promising young scientists, mathematicians, engineers and innovators since 1942.

Maya Ajmera

Written by

President & CEO of @Society4Science, publisher of @ScienceNews, founder of @GFCnews, social entrepreneur, children's book author, STEM enthusiast, mom

Regeneron Science Talent Search

Regeneron Science Talent Search, a program of the Society for Science & the Public, identifying the nation’s most promising young scientists, mathematicians, engineers and innovators since 1942.