ARMONK, N.Y. -- Audrey Saltzman, a senior at Byram Hills High School in Armonk, has been named one of 40 finalists across the country in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search for her studies of a neutron star 19,000 light-years from Earth, Tarrytown-based Regeneron recently announced.
With the honor, she receives an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. for the final round of the competition, where the young scholars will compete for a top prize of $250,000.
Saltzman, who received a call that she had been chosen in the middle of a clarinet lesson Monday afternoon, said she appreciated the honor.
“I was speechless when I found out,” she said. “All I could come up with to say was ‘thank you,’ so I said that about 12 times.”
David Keith, the director of the Authentic Science Research Program at Byram Hills High School, praised Saltzman for the distinction. He lauded the determination she showed in pursuing her research under the guidance of a mentor, Dr. Jon M. Miller of the University of Michigan Department of Astronomy.
“Audrey’s tenacity is extraordinary,” Keith said. “With incredible aplomb, she tackled problem after problem given to her by her mentor. It was marvelous to watch.”
Saltzman and two of her Byram Hills classmates – Yasamin Bayley and Isabelle Chong – were among the 300 semifinalists chosen in the contest from across the country early this month.
Bayley’s project showed how the production of calcite in a species of marine plant was affected by climate change, while Chong created a “laser cane” that can help blind people detect objects around them.
Saltzman chose her project because she had long been fascinated by neutron stars – the remnants of dead stars – which she describes as “among the most extreme things in the universe.”
She awoke at 7 a.m. daily last summer to complete the project, which included using X-ray and ultraviolet data from NASA to study the celestial object that had “gone into outburst” in 2012.
Saltzman made progress toward determining its radius and also examined the source of ultraviolet light that came from a phenomenon known as “reprocessing.”
Space is where “our understanding of physics is tested to its limits,” she said, noting that such research provided support for the theory of relativity, as one example.
“There’s a lot that we can learn about our world from studying space,” she said.
The semifinalists each received $2,000 for that round, and the school received $6,000 total. However, their selection brought more than prize money. It also brought attention to the school’s Authentic Science Research Program when the students were visited recently by officials from Regeneron and Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino.
At the final round in Washington in March, Saltzman and the 39 other contestants will display their projects and meet with noted scientists.