Alexandria, Va. — Surpassing more than 2,000 other students in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, Ana Humphrey, a senior at T.C. Williams High School has won first place and $250,000 in the nation’s most prestigious science competition for her research into exoplanets.
Ana was awarded first place for her mathematical model to determine the possible locations of exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — that may have been missed by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Hypotheses in the field say planetary formation creates dynamically packed systems, so Ana used her model to find “unpacked” spaces where as many as 560 new planets might fit and identified 96 locations as primary search targets.
The judges at the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition said that Ana’s research could aid mankind’s understanding of the formation of planets and inform our search for life in outer space.
Ana developed her research skills and learned how to conduct research through the Science Research class taught by Shawn Lowe and available to students in grades 10 through 12 at T.C. Williams. In the course, students pursue their own scientific questions and develop skills through authentic research in science. They’re encouraged to pursue discussions, internships and mentorships with scientists and expert professionals aligned with their projects.
“This is an incredible moment for Ana who has been recognized for the exceptional qualities she has as a scientist that have been nurtured and grown by teachers at T.C. Williams. The fact that one of our students is the winner of the most prestigious science competition in the nation reflects the high standard of courses and opportunities we offer to students. This is a proud moment for both Ana and our school,” said T.C. Williams principal Peter Balas.
“I could not imagine going to any other school. The students at T.C. Williams just have such diversity of thought,” said Ana.
Ana’s inspiration came in sixth grade after making a detour to visit the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition on her way home from a soccer game in D.C.
“I remember talking to one girl who actually went on to win the competition that year. She was growing algae in a lab under her bed. That seemed like a completely insane idea, that you would have a full laboratory experiment in your bedroom under your bed. Right then I knew that I wanted to be one of those students,” said Ana, who is driven by her absolute love of physics and quest to explore the big questions, like, ‘Where did we come from? How is it possible that we even exist? What is our place in the universe?’
Ana will join the ranks of more than seven decades of Science Talent Search alumni who have gone on to receive more than 100 of the world’s most esteemed science and math honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and the National Medal of Science. Many have started successful biotechnology and technology companies and gone on to change the world through their groundbreaking inventions.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search top winners, who are already leading the way in scientific research and innovation. Their talent, dedication and desire to make a difference in the world is commendable. Congratulations to Ana, I know her example will inspire other young people to get involved in STEM,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of Society for Science & the Public, Publisher of Science News and 1985 Science Talent Search alum.
The Regeneron Science Talent Search, a program of Society for Science & the Public since 1942, is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. This year projects tackled important global issues, such as management of infectious diseases, more efficient air travel and refugee migration patterns.