While leaving her UF dual-enrollment class with friends, Sidhika Balachandar got a call. She found out the project she’d been working on for a year was selected as a top 40 finalist for a nationwide science and math competition.
“I wasn’t expecting to win,” she said. “I’m very excited and happy to have this opportunity.”
The 18-year-old F. W. Buchholz High School senior became one of 40 finalists Jan. 23 selected from a pool of more than 1,800 for a nationwide competition for high school seniors. The competition, Regeneron Science Talent Search, has produced leading scientists and mathematicians.
She will fly to Washington, D.C., this March to compete against the other finalists for the top 10 spots and up to $250,000, said Julia Kelson, a spokesperson for the competition.
Balachandar’s project is about superconductors, a material that passes electricity without any resistance. She studied how to manipulate them and make them stronger.
She said her research could serve as a stepping-stone toward increasing efficiency in electrical lines.
“It’s definitely very motivating to know that the research I have conducted has not only been inspirational to myself, but other people are taking notice of it,” Balachandar said.
Julia Kelson, spokesperson for the competition, said previous finalists have won Nobel Prizes. Finalists have also won National Medals of Science, MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and other awards.
“The competition is a way to identify and then excite the next generation of STEM researchers,” Kelson said.
The finalists will compete for a total of $1.8 million in prizes, with each finalist earning at least $25,000, she said.
The 40 finalists were chosen from 1,818 entries, which is an increase from 1,749 last year, Kelson said. The competition allows the best young scientists to present original research.
“These are the best and brightest young scientists,” she said.
The entries are judged on their scientific research, academic record, and teacher and scientist recommendations, Kelson said.
To choose the 40 finalists, submissions were reviewed by at least three scientists in their given subject area. Those entries chosen by the scientists were then reviewed by a panel of 15 scientists across all subject areas, she said.
Balachandar’s subject area was physics, which she hopes to continue researching in combination with math, biology and medicine in the future.
Being placed as a finalist gave her extra motivation to continue the research into college, she said. So far, she has been accepted into Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but she’s still waiting to hear back from other schools to make a decision.
“I’m only in high school,” she said. “There’s much more for me to do.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the finalists will be going to Washington, D.C., in March, not this summer, as previously reported.