Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab announced that Benjamin Firester, a Hunter College High School senior, has won the top prize in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2018. The prize carries an award of $250,000.
Benjy, as he is known, is the fourth Hunter High student to finish first in the competition’s history, and the first New York City resident since 2005 when HCHS student David Bauer won the coveted prize.
Benjy’s prize was for the development of a mathematical model that can predict how weather patterns can spread spores of the late blight fungus, the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine and that still causes billions of dollars in crop damages annually. Benjy was one of 40 finalists from around the country who were honored.
His program uses existing blight locations, date, time and detailed local weather data to model the likely routes by which late blight will spread and predict likely future infection sites. Farmers will be able to someday use the shared data to assess blight risk and reduce the preemptive use of fungicide.
The prize was awarded by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and the Society for Science & the Public which conduct the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Regeneron became the third sponsor of the Science Talent Search in 2017 following Westinghouse from 1942-97 and Intel from 1998-2016. Regeneron provided awards of more than $1.8 million for the finalists, who were evaluated for their scientific and mathematical knowledge and abilities, in addition to their research projects.
“We are incredibly proud of Benjy," said President Raab. “His immense talent, paired with the support of his family and the Hunter High community made this achievement possible. He now takes his place in the legacy in the sciences at Hunter College High School, the only New York City high school to receive a first place award in this competition in more than 20 years.”
President Raab also thanked the superb group of teachers and administrators at HCHS including science research seminar coordinators Gilana Reiss and Phil Frankel; Dr. Phillip Jeffery, Chair of the school’s Science Department, and the school's principal, Dr. Tony Fisher.
“We are ecstatic about Benjy's recognition by the Regeneron STS judges,” said Lisa Siegmann, Acting Director, Hunter College Campus Schools. “It speaks so highly of his intellectual curiosity, his diligence and how his Hunter College High School education has prepared him for the rigors of scientific inquiry.”
Hunter College High School has had four first place finishes as well as several finalists in the national science competition. Amy Reichel won the Westinghouse competition in 1981 as did Dr. Adam Cohen in 1997. David Bauer won the Intel competition in 2005. In addition, Benjy’s sister Kalia, a HCHS graduate, came in 2nd place in the Global Good category in 2015 in the same competition.