dutch fork seniors scientist winners

Caitlin Kunchur (left) and Lauren Chen with principal, Dr. Gerald Gary. School District Five provided photo.

Two Dutch Fork High School students have been named among the top scientists in the country. Lauren Chen and Caitlin Kunchur were selected as two of the top 300 scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2020. It is known as the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

Scholars were chosen based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists. Entries were submitted from 192 American and international high schools in 39 states and Guam. The 300 scholars and their schools will be awarded $2,000 each.

Both Chen and Kunchur are part of the STEM Honors Magnet program at Dutch Fork. The competition provides students a national stage to present original research, while celebrating their hard work and discoveries. Research projects covered topics from medicine and health to environmental science.

“In my project, I developed procedures to measure various acoustical parameters, such as reverberation of speaking environments,” Kunchur said. “As a violinist, I have observed the impact of reverberation and acoustical structural design on how music is perceived in concert halls. As a student, I specifically wanted to research the impact of room acoustics on speech intelligibility: the clarity of speech received by an audience. Such studies can provide potential reevaluation of classroom design to optimize a teacher's or lecturer's ability to relay information to students or to a larger audience.”

Kunchur said she was thrilled to be selected as a Regeneron Science Talent Search scholar. "I am now part of a community of young scientists and researchers who are just as eager as me to satisfy their intellectual curiosity and answer unexplored questions.”

Chen also shared the same enthusiasm for exploring the unknown. “I am so grateful to be selected as one of the top scientists in the country,” Chen said. “It has reaffirmed my passion for research and learning, and I am excited to continue pursuing research in college.”

Chen’s project focused on breast cancer recurrence and how to monitor it.

“Early diagnosis of cancer is associated with higher survival rates, but most cancers are currently being detected with expensive methods in later stages,” Chen said. “There is an urgent need for a novel method that can predict and prevent tumor recurrence. In my project, I found that a specific microRNA, miR-134, circulating in the blood can not only help predict recurrence in breast cancer patients, but also promote tumor progression. In the future, this research can be used to develop an accurate, sensitive, and cost-effective blood test kit that can monitor breast cancer recurrence.”

There will be 40 of the 300 scholars who will be named Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists. Finalists receive a trip to Washington D.C., $25,000 and a chance to compete for the top award of $250,000.

Dutch Fork High School principal Dr. Gerald Gary said, “We are so excited about Lauren and Caitlin being recognized among the top scientists in the country. That's absolutely remarkable and a tribute to their hard work and courageous efforts in exploring the unknown and as a result, advancing knowledge in those specified areas. Our entire school community is proud of their hard work and commitment to excellence as lifelong learners.”

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