Professional Development

A local student just nabbed $70K in a national STEM competition

Gayatri Putalapattu was one of two DC-area finalists in the science and math competition for high school seniors.

Pravalika Gayatri Putalapattu at the Regeneron competition.

(Courtesy photo)

After working on it for nearly two years, a DMV senior just nabbed a huge win for her tech project addressing risks in gallbladder surgeries.

Pravalika Gayatri Putalapattu of Alexandria, Virginia, was named the seventh-place winner in the Regeneron Science Talent Search. She won a $70,000 prize for her Dynamic Operating Room Companion (also known as DORC). The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Tech student was one of two local students among the top forty finalists in the national competition, which Regeneron Pharmaceuticals presents with the Society for Science.

Gayatri Putalapattu started working on DORC in July 2020. Her goal was to reduce the potential for mistakes in gallbladder surgeries. Using machine learning, DORC analyzes live surgery videos and tracks the movements of surgical tools, such as the acceleration and velocity in use. DORC uses this info to flag potential errors.

Gayatri Putalapattu and DORC competed against 39 other finalists at this year’s competition — the first in-person iteration since 2020 — in DC. A Society for Science statement noted that the 40 finalists received over $1.8 million in awards, including the $25,000 gifted to each finalist regardless of rank.

“Congratulations to Pravalika on winning seventh place in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022,” said Maya Ajmera, the Society for Science’s president and CEO, in a statement. “Her innovative research using machine learning to identify and detect surgical missteps in real-time can save the lives of patients around the world.”

17-year-old Christine Ye of Sammamish, Washington won first place, which included a $250,000 prize. Victor Cai of Pennsylvania was awarded second place and $175,000, while Amber Luo of New York nabbed third place and a $150,000 prize.

Although she won for a medtech project, Gayatri Putalapattu told last month that she’s actually hoping to pursue a career in the quantum industry. The sector, she said, perfectly combines her love for math and computer science.

“Quantum computing is still in its infancy, but I think it has a power to completely obliterate classical computing limits, and just solve problems so much faster, and do so many more things,” Gayatri Putalapattu said.


View Gayatri Putalapattu’s project video here.

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