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Winners of the 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search are announced

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Some of the brightest and best high school seniors in the U.S. are celebrating. The newest winners of the nation's oldest science and math competition have been selected.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Each year, the biotech company Regeneron and the Society for Science call for students to develop innovative ideas. This year's two top winners, picked from more than 1,800 applicants, are Christine Ye from Washington and Victor Cai from Pennsylvania. Ye won first place for a project that looks at black holes and neutron stars.

CHRISTINE YE: Black holes are these objects with gravity that's so strong that not even light can escape. And a neutron star is the collapsed core of a dead star that's also extremely dense. And so when these objects collide together, you get very, very strong explosions.

MARTINEZ: Strong enough to create gravitational waves.

CHRISTINE: They are these really cool ripples in the fabric of space itself.

FADEL: Ye says studying gravitational waves can teach us more about those colliding space objects.

CHRISTINE: ...Things like how big the black hole is or how fast the neutron star is spinning.

VICTOR CAI: I built a narrowband short-ranged distance-sensing radar.

FADEL: And that's runner-up Victor Cai, whose project uses a different kind of wave right here on Earth. It's a kind of radar that calculates distance by transmitting two signals at different frequencies.

VICTOR: I started looking into short-range distance sensing that I could test in my home. And I realized that for radars with limited bandwidth, it's actually extremely difficult to (laughter) sense distance in the short range.

MARTINEZ: Cai found he was limited by the narrow slice of Wi-Fi bandwidth we all use where it's legal for citizens to transmit waves.

VICTOR: And so my project was able to get around the bandwidth restrictions and achieve the same resolution as a traditional radar, but using five magnitudes less bandwidth.

MARTINEZ: This means Cai's radar works without interfering with other wireless or Bluetooth devices in a building.

VICTOR: There's many applications, such as medical sensors, where you don't want the sensors to be interfering with each other, additionally with autonomous vehicles.

FADEL: And yes, he does mean self-driving cars. Cai says his project could help prevent collisions.

Victor Cai and Christine Ye, congratulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOO'S "LONGING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.