Ana Humphrey, a senior at T.C. Williams High School, has won first place and $250,000 in the national Regeneron Science Talent Search for her research into exoplanets.
The first Hispanic to receive the award in 20 years, she surpassed more than 2,000 other students in the competition.
Humphrey was awarded first place for her mathematical model to determine the possible locations of exoplanets — planets outside the 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 Humphrey 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 Humphrey’s research could aid mankind’s understanding of the formation of planets and inform the search for life in outer space.
Humphrey 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 research in science. They’re encouraged to pursue discussions, internships and mentorships with scientists and expert professionals aligned with their projects.
Her 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,” she said.