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Michigan Student Wins Top $250K Prize In Prestigious National Science Competition

LANSING – A Michigan student won the $250,000 top prize in the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors, an award that drew congratulations from State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice today.

Neel MoudgalNeel Moudgal, 17, a Saline High School senior, was awarded the prize in the national 2023 Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Moudgal created a computer model that can rapidly and reliably predict the structure of RNA molecules solely with the use of easily accessible data. He believes that this model will make it easier to diagnose and treat certain diseases. Here’s a project overview, and he’s the author of an article on his work in Journal of Physical Chemistry A.

“This is a phenomenal academic achievement for Neel and is indicative of some of the great student talent we have in Michigan’s public schools,” Dr. Rice said. “Neel sets a wonderful example for students to reach higher and challenge themselves to excellence. We are proud of Neel and his accomplishment.”

A blueprint for all genetic information contained within an organism, DNA replicates and stores this information, while RNA converts it to a format used to build proteins. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a spotlight on so-called messenger RNA or mRNA. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have received mRNA vaccines that protect against severe COVID-19. Researchers hope to someday use such vaccines to treat cancer.

At Saline High School, Moudgal carries an unweighted grade point average (GPA) of 4.0 (4.71 weighted) and is taking University of Michigan classes in math and statistics through a dual-enrollment program. He plans to double-major in statistics and biophysics and, as for his career, wants to become an “MD-Ph.D. researcher.”

Son of Varsha and Vivek Moudgal, Neel captains the varsity quiz bowl team, is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo, was a robotics team programmer from childhood through his sophomore year, and was a teacher’s assistant for children with special needs last year and over the summer.

Collecting rocks and minerals since age 6 was an invaluable springboard for learning about chemistry, Moudgal said.

Now in its 82nd year, the Regeneron competition celebrates and rewards young scientists focused on a wide range of topics, from cancer research to climate change, to the space race, and more. Of 1,900 entrants, Moudgal was among 40 finalists honored in Washington, D.C. during a March 14 award ceremony livestreamed at

Moudgal recalled his surprise upon hearing he’d won the top prize.

“It was surreal,” he said. “I didn’t expect my name to be called. There were 40 finalists, and I got to know them. Everything was impressive. Everyone did an amazing job.”

More than $1.8 million was awarded to the finalists, who were evaluated based on their projects' scientific rigor, their exceptional problem-solving abilities, and their potential to become leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Second- and third-place prizes went to seniors in Virginia and California, respectively. Thirty finalists were awarded $25,000 each, according to Regeneron.

By providing a national stage to present new ideas and challenge old ways of thinking, the competition encourages and rewards a culture of idea sharing, critical thinking, and continuous improvement. It also serves as a catalyst for discovering sustainable solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. The judging panel considers how these research efforts, innovative thinking, and leadership qualities demonstrate the students' potential to become future leaders in critical STEM fields.

Many Regeneron alumni have gone on to world-changing careers in STEM fields, with some earning the most esteemed honors in science and math, including the Nobel Prize, National Medal of Science, and MacArthur Foundation Fellowships.

For more information on Regeneron, visit: