Senior Jeffrey Wang’s original research has earned him semi-finalist status in this annual academic competition. He is one of 300 students who have received a cash prize; each student’s school will also receive a matching cash grant for their respective science departments.
According to Regeneron’s press release, “The Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars were selected from 1,760 applications received from 611 high schools across 45 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and 10 countries. Scholars were chosen based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists, and hail from 198 American and international high schools in 37 states, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, and Singapore.”
Established in 1942, the STS "provides students with a national stage to present original research and celebrates the hard work and discoveries of young scientists who are bringing a fresh perspective to significant global challenges. This year, research projects cover topics from bioinformatics to public health and energy efficiency.”
The student entrants’ submissions are judged by leading experts in their fields. The purpose of the event is to identify, inspire and engage “the nation’s most promising young scientists who are creating the ideas that could solve society’s most urgent challenges.”
Jeffrey’s project is titled “A Systematic Method to Identify Significant Changes in 3D Genome Compartmentalization Across Multiple Cell Lines.” He explains, “If completely stretched, the DNA in a cell would be two meters; however, it must fit into the nucleus with an average diameter of 6-10 microns. Far from being arbitrarily stuffed, there is a very systematic order to the packing of the genome. It turns out that many processes, from cancer to cellular differentiation, are guided (or caused) by changes in that 3D landscape. Recent high-throughput assays have shown that the genome is spatially segregated into active and inactive regions. However, due to current methodology limitations, there is no way to systematically compare that organization between multiple cell lines, a considerable limitation in the study of complex data systems.
“My project unravels this architecture. I created a bioinformatics tool that uses several normalization and multivariate statistical techniques to identify and rank significant changes in the 3D genome. Applied on multiple complex datasets, it recovered important genes/pathways and discovered chromatin changes that cannot be captured with existing methods. As a publicly available application, it can be used on hundreds of existing and newly-released datasets, opening new modalities in researching the 3D genome: discovery of new pathways, regulatory mechanisms, and cancer targets.”
He is quick to credit his relationships with Bishop’s science faculty Mr. Ben Heldt, Dr. Anthony Pelletier and Dr. Pam Reynolds, saying, “Over the course of four years, I have grown close to these teachers—I truly have them to thank for pushing me along my current scientific journey.” Sharing the news with them “was an especially cool part” of this exciting experience.
His project was initiated in the summer of 2019, prior to the start of his junior year. Jeffrey shares, “I entered my lab having never taken a formal biology course (a junior-level course at Bishop's) with just two years of programming experience. From that position, I have spent many late nights, weekends, and breaks meandering datasets and writing code. I think that this experience would sound boring or even mundane to many people; to me, it's intriguing that we can look into the function of a tiny cell with such an incredible level of specificity—it invokes awe and wonder.”
Indeed, the project has had quite a journey, going from “a San Diego science fair winner to a conference presentation to this.” And the journey isn’t yet complete. Jeffrey says, “I am currently finalizing a paper to be submitted to a scientific journal for which I will be first author. I think that mix of curiosity and grit (plus a bit of luck) has been the biggest factor in helping me expand the scope of the project over the course of a year and conquer a lot of challenges.”
Jeffrey adds, “The cherry on top is that the STS application was a behemoth; it took longer than most of my college applications! It required a 20-page research report, dozens of essay questions, and several recommendations. As such, I'm now crossing my fingers for the Top 40 announcement on Jan. 21st!”
That’s the day that 40 of the 300 semifinalists will be named STS finalists. From March 10-17 those 40 finalists will compete for more than $1.8 million in awards provided by Regeneron. We’ll keep you posted!