Past Winners: Where are they now?

by Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom

It’s interesting to follow up on people after they’ve been in the spotlight to see how their lives have changed. This is especially true for the promising young students who earned the title of America’s Top Young Scientist. These kids tend not to be one-hit wonders. In fact, several alumni have gone from center stage at our awards ceremony to the hot lights of the TV show, Shark Tank. Some have showed off their research alongside President Obama at the White House Science Fair. Let’s take a look at a few past winners.

Braeden Benedict

Braeden Benedict invented a helmet-mounted concussion detection system that earned him the title of 2011’s Top Young Scientist. His detector received national media attention, but Braeden has put the research aside for now. He hasn’t given up on medical or scientific investigation. He was a volunteer at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, where he investigated Sanfilippo syndrome. He’s finishing up his freshman year at Notre Dame, where he is in the prestigious Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program.

Deepika Kurup

Deepika Kurup, the 2012 Top Young Scientist, is now 17 and a rising freshman at Harvard College. Her submission project used solar power to purify water. See her entry video here. She remains passionate about solving the global water crisis.

She participated in the 2013 White House Science Fair and continued to gain honors and recognition for her work. In early in 2014, she was honored with the “United States President’s Environmental Youth Award” for her environmental stewardship and she won the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize that same year. In addition, she’s been awarded a host of other accolades and honors for her work. In 2015, she was the youngest person listed on Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30: Energy.” And she currently has two patents pending.

In her free time, Deepika enjoys giving talks and writing articles to encourage others to pursue STEM careers. She also helps build awareness of the global water crisis. She has presented at schools and conferences around the world. Watch one of her TEDx talks here. She also practices martial arts and holds black belts in Karate and Tae Kwon Do.

Peyton Robertson

Peyton Robertson was concerned about saltwater flooding cause by coastal storms like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. According to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), “salt water flooding represented over 80% of the total flood loss damage between 2005 and 2012. He set out to build a more efficient sandbag and his research was rewarded with the title of America’s Top Young Scientist 2013. Watch his submission video here

After he won the award, the young inventor went on the Ellen Show. Not one to rest on his laurels, Peyton has since earned three patents.

An avid golfer, he participated in the Pebble Beach Pro Am Celebrity Challenge with Clint Eastwood and PGA Professional Jimmy Walker. He won $100,000, which he used to launch the Multiplied Foundation. The Foundation seeks to expand STEM education. In 2016, Multiplied Foundation is doing this by partnering with the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science to provide full scholarships for 20 students to enroll in Hi-Tech Summer Camp.

Peyton is currently enrolled in Stanford University’s Online High School, through which he takes a variety of AP classes. Given that he’s only in 8th grade. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing more about his accomplishments in the coming years.

The students’ families provided updates for this post, but I spent a bit of time digging through videos and articles written about these impressive young adults. Obviously, they are an accomplished lot. What impressed me most, though, was their dedication to using science and technology to make the world a better place. It’s easy to get bogged down in the pressing issues of our time, but knowing that there are hard-working, creative thinkers and problem-solvers who seek to improve our lot makes it a little easier to sleep at night.