WARREN, NJ – Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) Class of 2020 graduate Jagdeep Bhatia has won the second place prize in the 79th Regeneron Science Talent Search, and in so doing, he has been awarded $175,000 in prize money.

Bhatia plans to continue his education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Mass., and he plans to apply the prize money toward his continuing education.

He has said he plans to study Computer Science in college, and perhaps later pursue a Ph.D or a more entrepreneurial tract. 

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“We are tremendously proud of all of Jagdeep's accomplishments, including this latest well-deserved recognition,” said WHRHS Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jewett.  “He has left an indelible mark on the WHRHS school community. I eagerly anticipate learning about his continued achievement throughout his future educational and professional journey.”

The Talent Search winners were announced as part of a virtual awards ceremony in July, where more than $1.8 million was awarded to 40 finalists across the country. They were “evaluated based on the scientific rigor of their projects, their exceptional problem-solving abilities and their potential to become scientific leaders,” according to the announcement from the talent search organizers. Bhatia says that “the three days of virtual judging were nerve-racking but fun. The best part was getting to know the other finalists. It feels amazing to receive recognition for my work, and I’d like to thank all the people who inspired me and guided me in my research.”

The Regeneron Science Talent Search is a science and mathematics competition for high school seniors. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is an American biotechnology company headquartered in Tarrytown, N.Y.

According to the Regeneron press release, Bhatia, 18, of Green Brook Township, earned this honor for solving an open problem and “developing two fast and simple machine learning algorithms for computer programs that are attempting to learn new concepts under the tutelage of an instructor, either a computer or human. His Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms do not only ask random questions but, like a savvy detective, ask just the right ones. His AI algorithms could help train robots and other automated devices faster and easier.” Bhatia’s research has the potential to solve some of the most pressing problems in machine learning.

Bhatia Explains

Earlier this year, Bhatia provided a more detailed description of his project. Its title is: "Simple and Fast Algorithms for Interactive Machine Learning with Random Counter-Examples."

Bhatia explained that the current processes of training machines – what is generally thought of as “Artificial Intelligence” – tend to be slow, requiring a lot of data.

"This is why robots still seem so primitive in their thinking and understanding, and my project tries to solve that," he said, "tries to make the whole process more data efficient. My research asserts that there is a more data efficient way to train machines, which I prove using mathematics.” A future application of these algorithms may be robotics, “where a surgical robot adapts to an individual’s anatomy, or where a factory robot learns a human’s habits and patterns so that the two can work effectively together.”

While at WHRHS, Bhatia was President of the Computer Science Club, which has included, among other things, helping to organize and stage the WHRHS "HillsHacks" Hackathons the last two years. He and the Class of 2020 Salutatorian Mayur Sharma, gave leadership to that program. The day-long program, held this year on Sunday, Feb. 23, just weeks before the COVID Pandemic forced the 4-month school closing and shift to Distance Learning, attracted scores of computer-interested students, from grade school-age through high school-age from around the North Jersey region, and involving a core of WHRHS computer-interested WHRHS students as peer leaders led by Bhatia and Sharma. 

In addition, Bhatia was president of the WHRHS Math Team, and a four-year athlete on the WHRHS Cross Country Team.

At the annual Senior Awards Ceremony for the Class of 2020, held virtually in June, Bhatia was recognized for having won the Class of 2020 “Excellence in Mathematics and Computer Science Award.”

First place honors in the Regeneron Science Talent Search went to Lillian Petersen of Las Alamos, N. M., who earned $250,000 for her entry, inventing a simple tool for predicting harvests early in the growing season. The Regeneron release explained that her project helps to improve food distribution planning and offers a promising resource to those working to address global food insecurity. Other Top Ten winners earned from between $150,000 to $40,000 for their project entries.

In addition, the competition also recognized another 30 entrants from across the country, who each earned $25,000 for their projects. Each year, around 2,000 student entrants submit original research in critically important scientific fields of study and are judged by leading experts in their fields.