Zhang Becomes Regeneron Scholar

This past week, Michael Zhang ’21 was selected as one of the top 300 scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (RSTS) for his project “Development of Silver Nanoparticle Decorated Zinc Oxide Arrays for the Portable and Label-Free Detection of Opioids in Liquids.”

This past week, Michael Zhang ’21 was selected as one of the top 300 scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (RSTS) for his project “Development of Silver Nanoparticle Decorated Zinc Oxide Arrays for the Portable and Label-Free Detection of Opioids in Liquids.” RSTS is one of the oldest and most prestigious science competitions in the nation in which some of the top student researchers from across the country are selected as top scholars.

For the past few summers, Zhang has been working on using nanotechnology to design a small chip that can detect dissolved opioids in water to create a product that is “more portable and easier to distribute than current drug-detecting systems.” Explaining his project, Zhang said, “The idea behind it is that you can have these sensors implemented across the U.S. so that you can map out which areas are suffering from opioid abuse the most.” According to Zhang, the invention provides a clearer picture so that “if we need a rehab clinic or any kind of medical assistance, we know where the opioid crisis is happening and how we can target it.”

When entering the competition, Zhang wanted to inform people of the opioid crisis. “This is a topic that doesn’t really show up that often in high school projects [or] university projects, so I just wanted to make people aware of this problem…as well as my solution,” he said.

In the beginning stages of the project, Zhang spent his time developing an original prototype in a lab. Although Zhang could not work in a lab in-person due to Covid-19, he found a quick work-around through using simulations, which helped him to develop his project with even more freedom than before. “I was able to ask questions like, ‘What happens if we use a different material? What happens if we use a different structure?’ and answer those questions using simulations,” he explained.

For Zhang, the hardest part of completing his project was “constructing a working solution.” Even with an idea in mind and foundations in nanotechnology from his earlier research, it was still difficult for him to “figure out how to manipulate chemistry to get to a solution.”

As an inductee of the top 300, Zhang is most excited about the community of fellow scientists that he will meet. “The other people who are selected are all very motivated and [they have] all identified [solutions] for their respective challenges. It’s a big honor to be a part of this group,” he commented.

Reflecting on his love for research and science, Zhang said, “The heart of meaningful research is service. At the end of the day, research doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t help people. Having the ideas is half the pie, but the question of how you deploy it to communities that need it most is the biggest thing.”

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