Collierville High Senior Named Top 300 Scholar in Regeneron Science Talent Search

Collierville High School senior Michael Chen was named a Top 300 Scholar in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2023, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. The competition is owned and produced by Society for Science.

Throughout its history, the competition’s alumni have been honored with 13 Nobel Prizes, 11 National Medals of Science, six Breakthrough Prizes, 22 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and two Fields Medals.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search recognizes and empowers our nation’s most promising young scientists who are generating innovative solutions to solve significant global challenges through rigorous research and discoveries. It provides students with a national stage to present new ideas and challenge conventional ways of thinking. Now in its one hundred and first year, Society for Science has played a significant role in educating the public about scientific discoveries as well as in identifying future leaders in science, technology, engineering and math. Regeneron has sponsored the Science Talent Search since 2017 as part of its deep commitment to STEM education and to supporting young scientists. Michael is the first Collierville High School student to be named a Top 300 Scholar. 

Learn more about Michael's project in the questions below.

1. Tell us more about your project. When someone reads the title of “The Regulation of Low-Level Backing on Supercell Intensity and Tornadogenesis Identified by Non-Hydrostatic Numerical Weather Prediction Model Analysis via Novel Hodograph Designs”, how would that relate to them in everyday life?

50-word summary:
Since 2010, over 1,000 people have lost their lives directly from tornadoes. Furthermore, these storms produced over $50 billion in damages. As an independent scientist, I found a key discriminator between tornadic and non-tornadic environments for my research in wind profiles of supercell thunderstorm-prone environments, thereby improving forecasts.
200-word summary:
Supercell thunderstorms are a unique type of thunderstorm that is characterized by a rotating updraft. This type of thunderstorm is by far the main producer of severe weather (58+ mph winds, 1+ inch diameter hail, and/or tornadoes). In the kinematic profile, winds that rotate counter-clockwise with height in the northern hemisphere are called backed winds. Effects of backing aloft in supercells is one of the most prominent controversies among meteorologists. This study focuses on differential kinematic environments and their impacts on the intensity and longevity of supercells and tornadogenesis.

Idealized simulations of supercell thunderstorms were conducted with weather models that predict the atmosphere by calculating solutions mathematically—determining evolution of supercells based on assimilated data from constructed balloon soundings. Analysis was done using a parallel visualization and graphical analysis tool to visualize scalar and vector fields defined on 2D/3D meshes.
Evaluations of the simulations suggest that the 2-3 km height is the key discriminator between short-lived and long-lived supercells with backed winds aloft. Also, the simulations uncovered that a moderate amount of backing angle could be the most optimal for supercells. The results will increase accuracy for forecasts of supercells and tornadoes, leading to earlier warning of severe weather.


2. What does this honor mean to you, being one of just four students from the State of Tennessee selected?

The Regeneron STS (formerly known as the Westinghouse STS and the Intel STS), is widely known as the most prestigious research-based competition for high school students. STS alumni have gone on to win thirteen Nobel Prizes and eleven National Medals of Science. The STS is symbolic of a stepping-stone in my life's journey as a research scientist. The competition identifies the top high school student researchers nationwide without state quotas, but more importantly, I was one of very few students who did not have a mentor or any assistance for my research. The STS does not allow team research among high school students, but mentors are allowed, so the majority of students who are nominated have someone to guide them in their research. In contrast, the work that I have done is mine only, and that's what makes me most proud .


3. What led you to this program and the desire to submit a project?

The Science Talent Search is very famous, and I knew about the program's existence since elementary school (back then it was sponsored by Intel). I did individual research throughout middle and high school, but submitting to STS didn't cross my mind until about a month before the deadline. One of my friends (from another state) recommended me to apply, so I wrote all my essays and my 20+ page paper in that time span after verifying that my project would be eligible per the rules. I really like the duality of being involved in both the more classic test-based competitions like the Olympiads, but also research-based competitions like the STS.


4. What was the process like?

The application is much more in detail and in depth than college applications. The essays revolved around me, my research goals, and research process for the most part. There were also sections on awards/honors and standardized test scores. My pdf-compiled application is 96 pages long.


5. Plans for after Collierville? Do you have a college or university selected? What are your goals?

I am not decided yet on a university, but I am fairly certain that I will be pursuing some combination of computer science/earth science/astrophysics. I will likely be tacking climate change, and I may also move into theoretical physics/astrophysics later on at some point as I am equally interested in cosmology. In terms of jobs, I will probably work at one of the seventeen DOE national labs, at a NOAA lab, or at NCAR. I also like the idea of being a university professor.


6. Anything else you’d like to add?

One student from Georgia made a massive group chat by using "reply all" to one of the links emailed out by the Society for Science. We currently have over half the STS nominees (150+ people), and everyone I've talked to has been nothing short of incredible!