LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico teen is getting an early start in making a difference in the world and was recognized on a national scale. 17-year-old Lillian Kay Petersen has a lot to be proud of after taking top honors in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search competition.
Nearly 2,000 high school seniors from across the U.S. entered the competition with projects addressing global issues like reducing humans’ environmental impact, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and protecting public health.
For her project, Petersen created a tool that analyzes satellite imagery to predict crop fields early in the growing season. “I specifically started working with satellite imagery in the summer after my sophomore year,” Petersen said.
The idea is to help plan food distribution, especially in food-secure regions. “It took me a really long time to figure out what worked and what could predict crop yields in Africa,” Petersen said.
Many of the bright minds honored are starting their next chapters at places like Stanford, MIT, and in Petersen’s case, Harvard where she plans to major in applied math and molecular biology. “This is a field that really excites me, and it has the greatest potential for life-saving drugs and therapies,” she said. As for what to do with that quarter of a million dollars. “Everything has come so fast today, I have not even had a chance to think about it,” said Petersen.
The students normally would have traveled to Washington, D.C. for the awards ceremony but there was still plenty of excitement as they conferenced in from across the country. Petersen had no shortage of support from friends and family who gathered in her parents’ backyard for a socially distanced watch party.
“Thank you to my family, my teachers, and mentors who have supported me over all of these years,” Petersen said. Petersen was not the only New Mexican to achieve high marks in the competition. Earlier this year Makayla Gates from Valencia High was also announced as one of the top 40 finalists netting $25,000 for her education.
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