Plano Student Named Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalist

PLANO, TX — One Plano ISD student was chosen from a pool of 1,800 entrants as a finalist in the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Michael Ma, a senior at Plano West, landed among the top 40 spots in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for his project titled "New Results on Permutation Pattern-Replacement with a Generalization of Erdős-Szekeres."

In March, Ma will travel to Washington D.C. to compete in a rigorous judging process against the 39 other finalists. While each finalist automatically wins $25,000, the top ten winners receive additional awards ranging from $40,000 to $250,000. The winners will be announced at a gala at the National Building Museum on March 13.

"The Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists are tomorrow’s scientific leaders, and their projects address some of the most urgent challenges we face as a society. Our world has no greater or more important resource than these bright young minds," said George D. Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron and Science Talent Search winner (1976). "I have deep respect and appreciation for each student who conducted extensive scientific research and completed a Regeneron Science Talent Search application. I look forward to what the finalists will achieve, as they add to the list of world-changing accomplishments by Science Talent Search alumni before them. It is my honor to congratulate and support these inspiring young people today."

Ma is one of two finalists from Texas. The other is Syamantak Payra of Friendswood, who landed the among other finalists with a project titled "A Smart Bionic Leg Orthosis: The Design, Development and Evaluation of an Orthotic Device for Comprehensive Restoration of Gait Characteristics Across Everyday Mobility Scenarios."

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Syamantak Payra of Friendswood, Texas, is a Renegeron Science Talent Search finalist. Image via Society for Science, used with permission

A spokeswoman for the Society for Science described Ma and his peers as "tomorrow’s leaders in science and engineering; unbelievable, amazing students who are doing some pretty impressive things."

Ma, who has been participating in math competitions since elementary school, is no stranger to victories like the one he has achieved with the Regeneron Science Talent Search. In 2016, he represented the U.S. in the 2016 Romania Masters of Mathematics competition, and in 2017 he won the Asian Pacific Math Olympiad with a perfect score.

He told Patch those victories marked "really exciting moments for me in my math career."

Ma studies combinatorics, which WolframMathWorld describes as "the branch of mathematics studying the enumeration, combination, and permutation of sets of elements and the mathematical relations that characterize their properties."

Ma broke it down more, explaining that enumerative combinatorics, his specific field of study, takes a look at different ways to order objects. Developments in the field of combinatorics have real world implications such as increasing the speed of computer algorithms.

Ma was paired with an undergraduate student from Stanford during his research on the project. He said the student helped him spawn ideas, study further research and move forward when he hit roadblocks.

But Ma is aiming higher still. He was given early acceptance to MIT, where he expects to begin classes this fall. Once there, he said, he will continue doing math research. The $25,000 reward he already earned, along with his potential future winnings, will help fund his education.

In full, the Regeneron finalists in 2018 study disciplines like behavioral and social sciences, bioengineering, cellular and molecular biology, chemistry, computational biology and bioinformatics, computer science, engineering, environmental science, genomics, mathematics, medicine and health, physics, plant sciences and space science.

Program alumni include recipients of the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including 11 National Medals of Science, five Breakthrough Prizes, 18 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, two Fields Medals and 13 Nobel Prizes.

Congratulations to Michael Ma, Plano West Senior High, named among just 40 finalists in the 2018 Regeneron Science Talent Search for his project, "New Results on Permutation Pattern-Replacement with a Generalization of Erdős-Szekeres." #planoisdexcels https://t.co/diKFLovlKn pic.twitter.com/S3WIr9dw5O— Plano ISD (@Plano_Schools) January 25, 2018

Images via Plano ISD, Renegeron Science Talent Search — used with permission

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