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T.C. Williams student wins $250,000 for exoplanet research

Student scientist takes home first place after competing against 2,000 other high school seniors
Credit: T.C. Williams High School
Humphrey was one of 2,000 high school participants.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An Alexandria County Public Schools student was awarded $250,000 for her scientific research. 

Ana Humphrey, a senior at T.C. Williams High School, received first place for her research on exoplanets at the Regeneron Science Talent Search – notably the most prestigious STEM competition for high school seniors in the nation.

The competition began in 1942, and Humphrey is the first Latina to receive the award in 20 years. Humphrey credits her inspiration to her first visit to the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition in sixth grade, according to an Alexandria Public School news release.

“I remember talking to one girl who actually went on to win the competition that year. She was growing algae in a lab under her bed. That seemed like a completely insane idea," Humphrey said in the release. "Right then I knew that I wanted to be one of those students.”

This year’s competition focused on important global issues, including refugee migration patterns, increasing efficiency of air travel and Humphrey’s research on exoplanets -- planets outside of the solar system.

Humphrey’s first-place win was awarded for her mathematical model to determine possible locations of these exoplanets which may have been missed by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Humphrey used her model to find spaces where 560 new planets could potentially fit. Additionally, she identified 96 locations as primary search targets. According to the release, the judges of the competition stated that Humphrey’s research could “aid mankind’s understanding of the formation of planets and inform our search for life in outer space.”

Previous winners of this award have started successful biotechnology companies, made groundbreaking discoveries and have received countless awards including 13 Nobel Prizes and the National Medal of Science. Humphrey now joins these past winners in their successes.

“I could not imagine going to any other school,” Humphrey said. “The students at T.C. Williams just have such diversity of thought.”