Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

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Pranav Sivakumar Wins Virgin Galactic Pioneer Award in 2015 Google Science Fair


Pranav Sivakumar, a junior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), won the Virgin Galactic Pioneer award in the 2015 Google Science Fair for his original astrophysics research, an honor that comes with a tour of Virgin Galactic’s Mojave Air and Spaceport to meet the company’s elite engineers, as well as a personal tour of Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship. Sivakumar designed two successful algorithms for discovering quasars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), expanding on research that earned him one of 15 Global Finalist awards in last year’s competition. The Google Science Fair is an international science and technology competition in which thousands of students post their science projects online to compete for more than $130,000 in scholarships, prizes, and international travel. Sivakumar won the Virgin Galactic Pioneer award after presenting to a panel of esteemed judges at Google Headquarters 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,” said Sivakumar. In addition to winning the Virgin Galactic Pioneer award and being the first ever repeat Google Science Fair Global Finalist, the 15-year-old is already an accomplished academic in several fields; he has won the Astronomical League’s National Young Astronomer Award, been named National Semifinalist twice in the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology, and placed second in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“Pranav’s impressive achievement in this worldwide competition reflects the hard work that he has undergone with the support of his faculty members, advisors, and peers at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy,” said IMSA President Dr. José M. Torres. “Pranav’s research into dark matter truly embodies IMSA's unique mission to ‘advance the human condition,’ and we look forward to his research developing this year as he pursues his Student Inquiry and Research (SIR) project in this field.” Pranav plans to further his research in collaboration with the University of Chicago as part of IMSA’s SIR program, which enables students to conduct and present original research on compelling questions of their interest.

Pranav Sivakumar’s project, “An Automated Search for Gravitationally Lensed Quasars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey,” allowed him to identify 109 new high probability quasar candidates in the SDSS, using two algorithms that he designed. Finding and studying these bright celestial objects gives insight into how much dark matter and dark energy exists in the universe, which could ultimately shed light on whether the universe will keep expanding, stop expanding, or collapse.

The internationally recognized Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy® (IMSA) develops creative, ethical leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  As a teaching and learning laboratory created by the State of Illinois, IMSA enrolls academically talented Illinois students (grades 10-12) in its advanced, residential college preparatory program, and it serves thousands of educators and students in Illinois and beyond through innovative instructional programs that foster imagination and inquiry. IMSA also advances education through research, groundbreaking ventures and strategic partnerships.