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CMA student wins $500 4th-place prize in international science fair competition

Tom Coyne

William (Minran) Wang '25 at his display booth at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles (Photo by David Lawrence)


William (Minran) Wang ’25 earned fourth place in the biomedical engineering category at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair and won $500, becoming the first Culver Academies student to place in the prestigious competition.

More than 1,800 high school students from nearly 70 countries competed for more than $9 million in awards. There were 22 categories, with first-prize winners earning $5,000, second-place finishers earning $2,000, third-prize winners earning $1,000 and fourth-prize finishers earning $500.

“This is truly a wonderful opportunity for me to receive this award,” Wang said.

Wang won a “grand award” for finishing in the top four for creating a dynamic robotic spinal brace with adaptive treatment for spinal deformities. There were more than 80 competitors in the biomedical engineering category.

Wang’s device seeks to help people with scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis or people whose backs get out of alignment because of long periods of sitting. The brace fits around a person and senses when a person’s spine is out of position and pushes it back into position.

Three other Culver students also traveled to Los Angeles to compete at ISEF: Tony (Zitong) Zhou ’25, Cherry (Qinyu) Zheng ’25 and Samuel (Zhenhe) Shi ’26. All four earned free trips to the competition in Los Angeles after placing at the Hoosier Science and Engineering Fair at Indiana University-Indianapolis on April 6.

“I think all four had projects worthy of winning awards,” Lawrence said. “Sometimes it comes down to the preference of the judges.”

Zhou created a self-sensing pneumatic three-finger grasper that he wants to use for the intelligent evolution of soft robots. He competed in a category called embedded systems, which involves getting data from an instrument or device and using that for enhancing communications, control or sensing.


Culver Academies senior instructor David Lawrence with students Samuel (Zhenhe) Shi ’26, William (Minran) Wang, Tony (Zitong) Zhou ’25 and Cherry (Qinyu) Zheng ’25 outside the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. (Photo provided)


Zheng created a robotic jellyfish to collect gametes from “super corals,” which can handle warming oceans better, and drop larva-populated blocks that will create new coral reefs. She competed in the robotics and intelligent machines category.

Shi created a multi-use underwater robot arm that has three silicone-coated rubber fingers that can gently grasp objects and could be used for underwater rescue and to help with deep sea exploration. He competed in the engineering technology: statistics and dynamics category.

Lawrence said the students chose different categories because they didn’t want to compete against each other.

Overall, 18 students from Indiana advanced to Los Angles and three others also won awards.

Adults aren’t allowed in the judging areas so Lawrence had no idea how the presentations by the students went.

“You just don’t know until the awards ceremony,” Lawrence said. “I expected one of them to get an award. I just didn’t know which one.”

Each student submits a written presentation of the science project and then give a two- to five-minute talk and answer questions from the judges.

Wang said a judge asked him to cut his presentation to one minute and then peppered him with questions.

“In a span of 13 minutes he asked 11 questions,” Wang said. “Then he kept trying to pressure me.”

Lawrence said he tries to prepare them for any sort of science question that judges might come up with. He said in the future he might see if he can get help from The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur at Culver after some judges asked students about how scalable their ideas were and how profitable they could be.


The view from the stage as William (Minran) Wang was awarded fourth place in the biomedical engineering category. (Photo by William (Minran) Wang '25)


“Those are outside the science realm type questions I’m used to answering, so for ISEF maybe we should get people from around campus to drill them with all sorts of questions,” Lawrence said. “They have to learn to come back with a good answer to any question. That’s a skill that is needed to do well at ISEF.”

Lawrence said some of the judges had business, not scientific, backgrounds.

Wang said the $500 will help him continue to develop his project. Wang said the projects can get costly. He said he had four prototypes and each required a dozen actuators that cost $20 each.

Wang said the fair was a great opportunity to exchange ideas with other students. He said he saw students working with material science that would improve his project and students developing better pressure sensors.

Wang said he might try to improve on this year’s project by coming up with a better algorithm for more advanced pressure control.

“Because the current device doesn’t have precise force control,” he said.

He also might do a totally different project next year. He said he’ll decide while he experiments while at home this summer in Shanghai, China.

Wang said his favorite part of the trip was going to Universal Studios for free.

Lawrence said one of his favorite times was eating lobster on the Santa Monica Pier with the students.

“Just hanging out at the pier together was a really special time,” he said. “It was a nice bonding experience.”

Lawrence is hoping that with four people advancing to Los Angeles this year will encourage more students to enter next year, when the finals will be held in Columbus. Ohio.


NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps holds a question and answer session from the International Space Center with participants at the Regeneron International Science and Engiineering Fair. (Photo by William (Minran) Wang '25)


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