Amber Yang already had plenty of accomplishments: editor-in-chief of the Trinity Prep School newspaper, pianist and violinist. She’s also one of the United States’ 40 finalists for one of the oldest and most prestigious science competitions in the nation.
The Regeneron Science Talent Search aims to find seniors in high school with the most innovative and potentially world-changing college level research projects.
Out of more than 1,700 entrants, only 40 students are chosen as finalists.
Yang landed her spot in the competition with an astrophysics research project. She created a computer modeling system that is capable of predicting where space debris (defunct satellites and or any other trash) will go in an orbit.
“They pose a huge danger to astronauts and other working satellites because they could crash into them and destroy billions of dollars that are up there in space right now,” Yang said.
The system she created will allow for time
to warn other working satellites so that they can move out of harm’s way.
Yang said that she became interested in this topic after frequently seeing in the news that there are problems with space debris. Yang wanted to do something about the concern, so she began conducting her own personal research.
“Amber is a very good student, certainly a hard worker, and a particularly creative kid,” said Michael Arney, a physics teacher at Trinity Prep.
Arney said that one of the things that stands out most about Yang is her astounding creativity and ability to think outside the box, which is a unique trait to have in a science field.
From March 9 to 15, the 40 finalists will visit Washington D.C. to undergo an intense judging process that will determine the top 10 winners.
Each of the 40 students received $25,000 for being a finalist, but the top 10 awards will range from $40,000 to $250,000, according to Regeneron’s press release.
Yang said that finalists in the past have described the judging process as life-changing.
“You get to meet with 39 others who are extremely passionate about science and who are nerdy like you,” Yang said. “I think that it will be very stressful for sure, but I’m also so excited because these kids are people who I’ve been looking for my whole life.”
In D.C., the finalists will get to present their research to the public and meet with science notables.
A lot of the alumni from the science talent search have gone on to win Nobel prizes and other prestigious science awards, according to Yang.
In the future, Yang hopes to become involved with entrepreneurship. She wants to create a company that combines two of her interests: astrophysics and biomedical
“Many of the technologies that work
down here on Earth need to be applicable up in space, so my thought is making safe space travel and also improving the livelihoods of astronauts,” Yang said.
Yang has received many opportunities for her research, including getting to speak at TEDxJacksonville about encouraging girls to get involved in STEM fields, another topic that Yang is passionate about.
“The stigma against it is decreasing, and sure there’s tons of programs that are encouraging girls to go into STEM, but I think the root of the problem is actually in micro-aggressions that go on within the classroom,” Yang said.
Yang said that in her experience, the biggest turn off is being the only girl in a classroom full of boys.
In the Regeneron Science Talent Search, 62 percent of this year’s finalists are male, while only 38 percent are female, according to the Regeneron press release.
From a teaching standpoint, Arney said that science educators are concerned that there are less girls in STEM fields and are asking themselves why that is so that they can do something about it.
Yang said that it’s important to encourage girls to go off on their own and learn about things that they’re interested in, explaining how she got away from sexism that she faced when she was younger.
“I started learning physics that was beyond what I did in the classroom, and from that I was able to discover a passion that I probably wouldn’t have developed if I had just stayed quiet,” Yang said.
Arney said that Amber is a testament to the fact that when a kid is passionate about science, willing to work and has a great idea, then wonderful things are going to happen.
“We always tell our kids that they can change the world, and she’s been able to share her ideas with a pretty amazing group of people,” Arney said.