Neel Moudgal, a high school senior who currently takes college level courses part-time, took what he learned in his Introduction to Engineering Design class and applied it to win the Regeneron Science Talent Search.
When you think about the skills required to win a science talent search, you may think about technical skills like computer-aided design (CAD), or thinking methodologies like the engineering design process-- but you may not immediately think about transportable skills used in all careers. Transportable, transferable, or durable skills include collaboration, problem-solving, ethical reasoning, communication, critical and creative thinking, technological skills, and the ability to fail and keep moving forward.
Initially, high school senior Neel Moudgal joined a PLTW Engineering course to learn the basic principles of engineering. While he had a strong theoretical understanding of physics, he wanted to learn more about the practical application of physics in engineering. He recognized the importance of CAD skills and the potential it held for his future career aspirations in medical research.
“I think even the careers I'm looking to go into, which are very much in the medical research kind of realm, that being able to understand how CAD works can be very useful,” he said.
His enthusiasm for learning and the freedom to explore his interests within the program fueled his motivation.
Neel’s passion for science and research led him to take on a project predicting RNA molecule structure. RNA, known for its role in gene expression, had been traditionally viewed as a messenger molecule. However, recent discoveries unveiled its wider range of functions and potential implications. Armed with a team of knowledgeable facilitators, Neel utilized experimental data obtained through nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to analyze the chemical environment of RNA molecules. His groundbreaking research aimed to develop a model that could predict RNA structure accurately, even with raw NMR data. Neel and his team used the research to write a paper where Neel was listed as a lead author.
Neel unexpectedly learned about the Regeneron Science Talent Search while attending a celebration for a different award he won. Despite the extensive application process, he decided to give it a shot. The opportunity to showcase his research and compete alongside other exceptional students motivated him to overcome his fears. With only six weeks to complete the application, he persevered and successfully submitted the application. Neel was selected and progressed through to the final round.
As a Regeneron finalist, Neel traveled to Washington, DC for the final competition. The intense three-day event included judging sessions where he faced a panel of renowned scientists who posed challenging questions unrelated to Neel’s research. This part of the process tested his knowledge, confidence, and ability to think on his feet—skills Neel practiced in his PLTW coursework. However, Neel walked away from that round feeling like he had failed.
Neel didn’t give up. He carried on through the rest of the rounds, giving it his all despite the gut feeling that he was no longer in the running for the top prize. He credits that feeling with loosening him up for the following rounds where he was able to showcase his research. Neel was used to failing-- many PLTW students are, as it is part of the learning process-- but he had the skills to move forward and learn from the proposed failure. Neel's initial RNA project idea came from a teacher-mentor who had previously failed on the same topic, and that showed him the practical application of failing, trying something different, and learning from mistakes.
Neel embraced the feeling of failure and used it as fuel to go on to win the main $250,000 Regeneron Science Talent Search. Neel plans to pursue his education at the University of Michigan and aims to be a physician scientist.
“I absolutely love research. I love being able to discover new things while also getting that human interaction and being able to research," he said. "You can make big discoveries and you can make big changes on large levels but also, I kind of just want that ability to make day-to-day changes on people's lives - some kind of like impact to people on an individual scale.”
PLTW provides PreK-12 schools, teachers, and students with hands-on, interdisciplinary STEM-based curriculum that uniquely prepares students for life and their future careers. PLTW rejuvenates teachers, providing world-class experiences that keep them on the forefront of how to prepare students for the demands of tomorrow. PLTW:
- Has provided professional development opportunities to more than 80,000 teachers giving them the support and resources needed to inspire students
- Offers best-in-class teacher training: PLTW Core Training with Master Teachers
- Continuously updates teacher resources that are available on demand
- Facilitates teacher networking opportunities
- Develops curriculum by a team of writers, many of whom are former teachers
Learn more about PLTW on pltw.org.