High School Senior's Tool To End Food Insecurity Wins National Competition Lillian Kay Petersen, 17, has won the Regeneron Science Talent Search, a top science and math competition for high school seniors. Her winning project: a tool to predict crop harvests.

High School Senior's Tool To End Food Insecurity Wins National Competition

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/897076414/897076415" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


So high school seniors have missed out on so much this year - no prom, no traditional graduation ceremonies. And who knows what college is going to look like this fall? But that has not stopped some of them from trying to solve the world's biggest challenges.

LILLIAN KAY PETERSEN: I created a model to predict crop yields in every country in Africa three to four months before the harvest using satellite imagery.


Seventeen-year-old Lillian Kay Petersen lives in Los Alamos, N.M. And you are doing this - right? - also trying to figure out crop yields in Africa during the pandemic? She's hoping her scientific model could help to end food insecurity. The inspiration for this goal was her siblings.

PETERSEN: Nine years ago, my family adopted my three younger siblings, all of whom faced food insecurity in their childhoods. I have watched my younger siblings struggle with the lifelong effects of malnutrition.

GREENE: She started monitoring droughts in Africa using satellite imagery during her sophomore year. And less than two years later, she published her first paper on the subject in a peer-reviewed journal.

INSKEEP: As if that wasn't impressive enough, she's just won one of the most prestigious STEM competitions for high school seniors in the country, the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2020.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the first-place winner and the recipient of a $250,000 award, from Los Alamos High School in Los Alamos, N.M., Lillian Kay Petersen.

PETERSEN: I honestly don't think anything was going through my head except, what? - and, wow, because I was just so blown away. I had trouble comprehending what was happening. I heard my name called, but it took a few seconds to realize that it had been called after first place.

GREENE: Lillian Kay Petersen, who is now continuing her studies at Harvard University.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.