Amber Yang

CTYer Amber Yang of Windermere, Fla., won the Young Scientist Award and a $50,000 prize at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) last month in Los Angeles. Her project was titled “Multi-Orbit Space Debris Cloud Tracking Using Iterative Closest Points Registration with Machine Learning.”

Amber has taken CTY Summer Programs courses in physics and chemistry. She recently shared with us what it’s like to be a science star. 

Q: If you could sum up your recent Intel ISEF experience in three words, what would they be?

A: Breathtaking, surreal, hard work.

Q: Is there anything else in your life so far that compares with winning the Young Scientist Award?

A: Earlier this year, I was named a top 40 finalist for the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the oldest and most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. As a result, I was sent to Washington, D.C. for a week to present my research and meet 39 other amazing seniors, who are now my closest friends. The Regeneron Science Talent Search is often called the “Junior Nobel Prize,” so becoming a finalist gave me confidence and affirmation that the research that I have been working on was worthwhile.

Amber Yang (left) award ceremony
Amber Yang, left, was the Young Scientist Award winner at the 2017 Intel
International Science and Engineering Fair.   Photo credit: Chris Ayers

Q: Did you learn anything in your CTY Summer Programs courses that helped you with this award-winning research project?

A: I took chemistry and physics at CTY the summers after my eighth and ninth grade years. Those two summers were my first exposure to higher-level science. I remember learning about orbital mechanics and the physics behind rocket launches from CTY physics, and that was when I started getting interested in astrophysics, which is the field of my science research. The fun and immersive learning environment of CTY really got me excited about learning difficult science concepts that I really hadn’t gotten exposure to from my middle school science classes. Furthermore, I was surrounded by kids who were just as interested in science as I was, and this was my ultimate takeaway. The most important aspect of furthering scientific research and innovation is to collaborate with other like-minded individuals who will challenge you to think differently.

Amber Yang
Amber Yang stands with the poster that outlines her award-winning
astrophysics research.   Photo credit: Chris Ayers

Q: What were the biggest takeaways from the science research experience that you would like to pass on to younger CTY students?

A: A lot of times, you only see the successful high school science research stories—the ones where people got an idea that could change the world, and it worked. But what’s left out are the failures and struggles that go into science research. It’s not a glorified process, and there will be times when people will discourage you and you will want to give up. It takes years of work and hours spent alone to ultimately achieve results. However, the most important thing is to remember that innate curiosity and that love that got you into your research in the first place. If you remember that, then all of your struggles will be validated.

More on Amber: Check out her TEDx Talk, “The Space Debris Apocalypse.”

Katy Bowman