Teen Wins $250K for Malnutrition- Busting Tool

Inspired by her 3 siblings and an Ethiopian drought, Lillian Peterson aces Regeneron science contest
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2020 10:38 AM CDT

A high school senior in New Mexico has a bright future in STEM—and it just got much brighter with the announcement she beat out 40 other finalists to win a prestigious science and math competition. NPR reports that 17-year-old Lillian Kay Petersen of Los Alamos has taken home the grand prize in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for her creation of a tool that can predict crop harvests, which can help fend off malnutrition by assisting with food distribution efforts. Lillian examined digital satellite images on already known domestic crop data, then applied that information to every country in Africa, successfully predicting crop yields there three to four months before harvest time, per a video she made explaining her project.

Lillian tells NPR she has three younger adopted siblings who grew up with food insecurity before they came to her family, adding in her video that they had developmental delays. A 2015 drought in Ethiopia jump-started her drive to further explore the concept of malnutrition using her computer science skills. "I wanted to find a way to help aid organizations ... respond to food crises with a better time to help children so that they don't face malnutrition and lifelong consequences," she says. In her video, she adds, "I would advise any young student interested in science to learn computer programming. It opens the doors to anyone so that they can participate in real science at a young age." As part of her first-prize win in the Society for Science & the Public competition, Lillian, who'll be heading off to Harvard to major in applied math and molecular biology, takes home $250,000. (More food insecure stories.)

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