Seniors named national STEM scholars

Seniors Rupert Li (left) and Soumik Chakraborty (right) were both named finalists from the Regeneron STS.

Jesuit High School

Seniors Rupert Li (left) and Soumik Chakraborty (right) were both named finalists from the Regeneron STS.

In January, seniors Rupert Li and Soumik Chakraborty were named in the top 300 finalists of the Regeneron Science Talent Search with, Li later recognized as a top 40 finalist. Both students were honored for their individual research and achievements in respective fields of math and science. 

Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) is a national competition for seniors interested in science and mathematics. The competition, which started in 1942, is regarded as the nation’s “oldest and most prestigious science and mathematics competition.” (

Finalists for 2020 came from a pool of roughly 2000 applicants. From this 2000, 300 were chosen and from this 300, 40 finalists have been selected. On March 10, finalists will be picked from this 40 at an event in Washington DC. Finalists are chosen based on their creativity and originality of their research as well as their leadership. 

Learning of the competition from Jesuit alumni and participation in other STEM competitions, both Li and Chakraborty have long had this senior-only opportunity on their radars. During the past few years, each has been busy conducting necessary research for the extensive application process.

With Li exploring mathematic models and equations and Chakraborty examining the issue of stress through a scientific approach, both students’ research and projects were inspired and executed very differently. 

Li, who worked on a project titled “Compatible Recurrent Identities of the Sandpile Group and Maximal Stable Configurations” was introduced to the Sandpile Model through his participation in the MIT PRIMES-USA program while working with a mentor. His research, conducted over the last year, was directed at the mathematical foundation and abstract concept of the group structure of the model. 

“If you take a pile of sand and imagine what happens when you add more sand to it, eventually it will collapse,” Li said. “So you can make a model that tries to understand the behaviors of that…it’s interesting from a mathematic and worldly perspective and is historically significant in the models of natural phenomena. For example, the model can be used to study landslides.”

Chakraborty spent his time researching and developing a non-intrusive stress detector through shoes. In middle school, he realized stress was a common factor among his peers and young people in general. After reading more about the correlations between stress and its dangerous effects, Chakraborty was inspired to do something. 

“The idea is that when [people] are experiencing stress that is unhealthy or abnormal, they can get timely help,” Chakraborty said. “Knowing it was a problem and that there weren’t any non-intrusive devices out there that helped people, I wanted to develop something. Plus I wanted to develop something that wouldn’t cause pain or discomfort to a wearer, and I figured embedding something in shoes would allow it to be integrated into everyday life pretty quickly”

Alumni of the Regeneron STS have gone on to win 11 National Medals of Science, five Breakthrough Prizes, 21 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, two Fields Medals and 13 Nobel Prizes. Being recognized at this level is a high honor for both students as well as a notable reflection on Jesuit.

“It felt really exciting and also really inspiring that I was recognized for my research,” Chakraborty said. “It’s pretty special to be part of the Regeneron scholar community. Seeing in the past how much other Regeneron scholars have helped advance society and the contributions they’ve made, being part of that community now is pretty awesome.”

While the process prior to this has all been via submission and evaluation, top 40 finalist, Li, will attend a formal gala in Washington DC where he will present his work in a more traditional science fair setting. He will be judged face-to-face for the first time with other competitors. From this, ten finalists will be chosen. 

Li is both grateful for his achievements and excited at the possibility of being a member of the top ten.

“I was really surprised, they call you so it’s really sudden,” Li said. “It’s a great honor, and makes all the work I put into the project and math in general even more gratifying knowing someone else appreciates it. Being in the top ten would be unreal.” 

While both students have been part of other science and math competitions, the research done for Regeneron STS has been their biggest projects to date. The opportunity has allowed them both to engage deeper with their passions and learn more about their fields. 

“I definitely learned a lot about how research works and what it’s like to think about a problem that you want to solve, how to break it down into different steps and then work at one problem at a time, persevere, and then eventually get somewhere with that problem,” Chakraborty said. 

Competitors involved in Regeneron STS are competing for over 1.8 million dollars. Top 300 finalists receive $2,000 as well as $2,000 to their schools. Top 40 finalists receive $25,000 and top ten finalists’ prizes range from $40,000 to a top award of $250,000.

In November, Chakraborty was given the chance to lead a Ted talk at TedX Youth Portland where he discussed his product. During his talk, Chakraborty emphasized the untalked about epidemic of stress and encouraged youth in the community to be advocates and look for ways to use innovation to tackle health problems. In the future, he hopes to collaborate with shoe companies in order to get his product on the market.

As part of the competition criteria, both Li and Chakraborty are recognized for their leadership and dedication to areas of STEM inside and outside the classroom.