OPRFHS senior named school’s first Regeneron Scholar

OPRFHS senior named school’s first Regeneron Scholar

Dhillon stands in front of her research poster for the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious STEM competition.

Oak Park and River Forest High School is proud to announce that senior Nadya Dhillon was named a Regeneron Science Talent Search scholar. This marks the first time in the competition’s 80+-year history that an OPRFHS student has earned this prestigious recognition. Dhillon, one of only six students from Illinois being recognized, joins an elite group of Science Talent Search alumni who have gone on to be awarded Nobel Prizes, Fields Medals, MacArthur Fellowships, and other accolades.

“I am extremely proud of Nadya’s accomplishment,” Superintendent Dr. Greg Johnson said. “It took hard work, dedication, and perseverance to reach this extraordinary achievement. On behalf of our entire Huskie family, I commend her, and all those who helped support her success.”

Dhillon said she could not contain her excitement when she first heard the news. 

“I was in my Economics class when I found out, and I immediately texted my parents,” she said. “It truly means so much to receive this honor. Words cannot express my gratitude for my work being rewarded and exposed to an expanded audience!”

Sponsored by Society for Science, a non-profit organization dedicated to STEM education and scientific research, the Regeneron Science Talent Search is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition. It recognizes the most promising young scientists who, through rigorous research, are finding innovative solutions to significant global challenges.

Dhillon’s research project, titled The Effect of a Novel Biomedical Technique on Reprocessing of Duodenoscopes Using Silver Nitrate and Methylene Blue Irradiated With Red Light, aimed to find a new way to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria that often form on surgical devices, which could help prevent infections after these devices are used in surgery.

“I tested different concentrations of silver nitrate and red-light-activated methylene blue solutions and found that they are very effective in killing bacteria on models of the surgical devices,” Dhillon explained. “Because these devices are notably difficult to sterilize, especially when contaminated with resistant bacteria, finding a new method to both easily sterilize them and combat multidrug-resistant bacteria were my two goals.”

Dhillon, who is excited to attend college to major in Biology and Anthropology before continuing on to medical school, is currently enrolled in her second year of the Investigative Research Design and Innovation (IRDI) course at OPRFHS, taught by science teacher Allison Hennings. IRDI students spend an entire school year designing and implementing a unique research project, a process that Dhillon is now undergoing for a second time.

Hennings noted how challenging it is for anyone to pursue two back-to-back year-long research projects, let alone a young scientist. But Dhillon “has trudged full speed ahead, smiling, with bravery and a sense of confidence.”

“Nadya has a passion and dedication for her research that shines when she talks about her work, and she is meticulous, driven, and patient, which are important characteristics of a scientific researcher,” Hennings said. “Becoming a semi-finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search is just the start of the impact she will undoubtedly have on our world.”

Approximately 1,900 students from more than 600 high schools across the U.S. and four other countries entered the competition. Dhillon is one of only 300 who were selected as scholars based on their research, leadership skills, community involvement, commitment to academics, creativity in asking scientific questions, and exceptional promise as STEM leaders. Each scholar will be awarded $2,000, and their school will receive an additional $2,000.

On January 24, 40 of the 300 scholars will be named Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists. The finalists will then compete for more than $1.8 million in awards during a week-long competition in Washington, D.C., taking place March 9-15. 

To learn more about the Regeneron Science Talent Search, please click here.