The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


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David Cao named 2024 Regeneron STS finalist

Lin Cao
Senior David Cao poses for the camera after presenting at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) conference. “Do research that you’re actually interested in even if you don’t get anything out of it for a while,” Cao said. “It’ll give you good results eventually.”

After semifinalist results were announced on Jan. 10, students have been waiting for weeks in anticipation for the finalist results to be released. The 40 finalists for the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) were announced on Jan. 24, 2024. This year, only one student from Jefferson was recognized as a finalist: senior David Cao.

Cao conducted a theoretical experiment about the implications of ‘Oumuamua on panspermia. ’Oumuamua was the first interstellar asteroid detected in this Solar System. Cao’s experiment considered the likelihood of panspermia, the hypothesis that life in the Universe is distributed by objects in space such as space dust and asteroids as well as spacecraft carrying microorganisms, creating life on Earth. 

“My project was mainly theoretical rather than experimental, it’s pretty much impossible, given our current technology to physically model the process of panspermia,” Cao said. “You would need a bunch of planets or something, which we don’t have access to. So, I found the maximum possibility that life sparked on Earth due to panspermia and the number of potentially habitable worlds in our galaxy that may harbor life.” 

Cao will be presenting at a week-long competition in Washington D.C. from March 6-13, and share his research to the public on March 10. 

“I’ve been working on my poster for the past week and it’s actually due on Tuesday,” Cao said. 

As Cao’s experiment was theoretical, he plans on conducting further research on panspermia. 

“There’s always room to improve, so I think that I’ll definitely continue the project,” Cao said. “I’ll try to pursue it in college. I’ll probably have learned some new things too, so maybe [I could] explore something more.” 

Seoyoung Jun, who was recognized as a semifinalist this year, had a project about assistive technology for the visually impaired. She created and designed a device that could help recognize 3-D space. 

“I think it was a long process. I feel like most projects start well before November, which is when [the application] is due. It’s nice that it’s finally over and I don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Jun said. “Doing the project itself was a huge roller coaster, but you have a lot of things you need to fill out on the actual application. The whole process is stressful, but at the end of the day, you did something [that] you can feel good about. It was worth the struggle.” 

Jun advised aspiring applicants to just start working on their projects and not get discouraged. 

“If you have a project in mind, just do it. In the beginning, I was thinking about it because you’re surrounded by really talented people. I wondered whether I would be able to go up against them, or if my project would actually count,” Jun said. “[In] the end, I realized that everything does count. If you put in enough effort, the judges will see it and bring back good results. Try it out and start early. Don’t procrastinate. It can get really stressful because you’ll also have to do college applications. You got this.” 

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