Jacob Wu ’19 has been named a top 300 scholar in the 78th Regeneron Science Talent Search—the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and mathematics competition for high school seniors. He is being honored for his project, “Spray and Stick: A Novel Agent for Pesticide Adhesion,” which was inspired by work he did as a Lawrenceville Hutchins Scholar
. He has now filed a patent for a spray system that allows pesticides to cling more consistently to plants, which lessens runoff of the pesticide into ground water.
“I’m very humbled and excited to be named one of the Scholars,” said Wu, who hopes to pursue a career researching the intersection between human health and policy.
Wu has earned a $2,000 prize – and a matching amount will be donated to the School to use toward STEM-related activities. His project moves on to the Regeneron finals, where 40 finalists will receive $25,000 and an invitation to Washington, DC for the final competition in March. The top prize for the most promising emerging STEM leader in the United States is $250,000.
Wu began thinking about his project while doing research as a Hutchins Scholar between his sophomore and junior years at Lawrenceville. Scholars tested the water in Lawrenceville’s two ponds and found, unsurprisingly for a campus surrounded by farms, residue from agricultural pollutants. “I wanted to see if I could find a way to reduce that runoff and the most sensible way was to improve the way pesticides stick to plant leaves,” he explained.
MIT researchers had created a two-step process to increase pesticide adhesion, which Wu found “fascinating, but not particularly practical. I wanted to see if I could fit everything into one bottle,” he said.
He started his research at home – using fig leaves from a household plant. Wu found that very low quantities of “two polymers of different charges, plus a surfactant, combined with a pesticide, enabled [the mixture] to stick much better to plant leaves,” Wu explained. He moved his work to the lab, using an optical microscope to confirm his research. He found that his mixture contains small particles that he hypothesizes will slip into – and stick – in the crevices of plant surfaces.
The work, which took more than a year, was “fun and transformative,” according to Wu. The Fifth Former said he learned valuable lessons during his research, including “staying level headed when things don’t work out, and how to approach questions from different angles, building off past knowledge to make connections. I was able to experience – and appreciate – the value of science research.”
Wu credits Elizabeth Fox (Director of Student Research) for her guidance. “She was very supportive throughout my research, suggesting improvements to my experimental protocol, providing feedback as I got results, and reviewing different parts of the project.” he said. David Laws (Dean of Academics/Science Master) was also helpful, working with Wu to create a computer program that aided his research.
He encourages everyone to get the first-hand experience of scientific research. “It’s a great way to explore your interests, dive down, deep, and make a real impact in the world,” he concluded.
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