Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

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Junior Pranav Sivakumar First Ever Repeat Global Finalist in Google Science Fair

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IMSA Junior Pranav Sivakumar recently made history in the 2015 Google Science Fair, becoming the first person to earn a second Global Finalist award in the prestigious international competition, which features thousands of students competing for more than $130,000 in scholarships, prizes, and international travel. Sivakumar furthered the research on quasar lensing that earned him one of 15 Global Finalist awards last year, writing two successful algorithms for discovering these bright celestial objects within the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

 “I’m glad I made it this far, and I’ll do my best to prepare and see where I go from here,” said Pranav, who will present his research to a panel of esteemed judges at Google HQ in California on September 21. “It has been an exciting journey, and I plan to continue this research for many years, hoping to contribute at least a little to our understanding of dark matter and dark energy, which make up 95 percent of the universe and determine its future.”

At 15 years old, Pranav is already an accomplished academic in several fields, having won the Astronomical League’s National Young Astronomer Award, two National Semifinalist awards in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology, taking second place in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, being part of a team that received the highest possible rank in the High School Mathematics Contest in Modeling, and being named National Middle School Quizbowl Player of the year. His research for this year’s Google Science Fair addressed unresolvable image configurations of quasars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, allowing him to identify 109 new high probability quasar candidates.

Sivakumar was chosen out of only 10 students in his age category, 7 Americans, and 20 total students worldwide to make the finals. He will find out in late September if he has won the Grand Prize, which includes $50,000 in scholarship funds, or one of the eight other awards which include two $25,000 awards, three $10,000 prizes, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and more.

"A number of astrophysicists have provided valuable suggestions to improve this project and encouraged me to tackle research questions in greater depth," said Pranav. "Dr. Masamune Oguri of the University of Tokyo challenged me to solve the “missing piece of the puzzle”. Dr. Mark Brodwin of the University of Missouri – Kansas City provided feedback which led to one of the key changes in the algorithm. I am grateful to Dr. Eric Hawker of IMSA for sharing insightful comments about my research. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Don York of the University of Chicago, with whom I will be pursuing an SIR project, for his support and guidance over the summer on the future direction of this research."