Why do science? Teens explain why they put in the effort

Finalists of the Regeneron Science Talent Search share why they love doing research

Krithika Iyer

Finalist Krithika Iyer shares her work during Public Day at the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Chris Ayers Photography

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Research in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) isn’t easy. It involves long hours, reading papers full of complex words and a good dose of failure. But to the teens at the Regeneron Science Talent Search, it’s all been worth it.

Created by Society for Science & the Public and sponsored by Regeneron (a company that develops and produces medicines), this yearly event brings together high school seniors from all over the United States. They gather here to share their science projects with the public and compete for nearly $2 million in prizes. (Society for Science & the Public also published Science News for Students and this blog.)

Below, six finalists share what motivates them to put in the effort to do research. It’s not about fame or fortune. Instead, these teens are driven by curiosity, the need to help others and a deep desire to solve puzzles.

Through my scientific work, I get to make the world a better place. Rather than focusing on improving my income or being successful, I get the opportunity to use my skills and talents and knowledge to benefit other people.

– Emily Ann Peterson, 17, Smithtown High School East, St. James, N.Y.

Why I think doing research is important is because it kind of allows you to just sit down with a problem…and tackle it for a really long time, try everything you think possible to solve the problem….if you’re able to persist and work on a problem for a really long time I think you’ll be able to achieve something

– Alec Sun, 18, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, N.H.

You get to delve into an area that you’re really interested in….I learned how to communicate with the scientific community. Reaching out to professors and experts in the field was really great because I was better able to understand…the scientific process and communicating my ideas to other people.

– Evani Radiya-Dixit, 18, The Harker School, San Jose, Calif.

I believe that it can truly make an impact in people’s lives. My grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010, and he and I were very close. So seeing him lose the ability to walk or speak over the next three years, that sort of pushed me to get involved in research to try to solve that problem. What disease was he suffering from? How could I…help treat it? So I joined a lab my freshman year [of high school], and tried to cure Parkinson’s. That didn’t turn out as well as I hoped. But I continued that passion for solving problems in medicine and in health that actually can truly make an impact and touch people’s lives. I hope that’s the way I can use science in the future.

– Arjun Subramaniam, 17, The Harker School, San Jose, Calif.

I find working on math problems on a prolonged scale of time to be enjoyable. You get to understand things on a much deeper level than in a school setting or something. I find it to be really beautiful in the end when you finally see the pattern that underlies all the noise at the top.

– Julian Wellman, 18, Greenhills School, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Research is really important to me, because it’s about solving the big problems of today so we don’t have to face them tomorrow.

– Krithika Iyer, 18, Plano East Senior High School, Plano, Texas.

Follow Eureka! Lab on Twitter

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.