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Jan. 29, 2018 - Plano West Student Named as Top 40 Finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search


Michael Ma, a senior at Plano West Senior High, has been named in the elite group of Top 40 finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (Regeneron STS) for his project titled New Results on Permutation Pattern-Replacement with a Generalization of Erdos-Szekeres. Finalists were selected from a pool of highly qualified entrants based on their projects’ scientific rigor and their potential to become world-changing scientific leaders. See information in headlines about the 2018 Regeneron STS Top 300 scholars from Plano ISD.

 Michael Ma 2018 Regeneron Finalist

Michael Ma, 2018 Regeneron Science Talent Search Top 40 Finalist.

Michael has sage advice for other student researchers. “You have to like and enjoy the research to keep pushing; you have to have a passion for it. Roadblocks will happen, and it’s tempting to give it up. Just know that it’s an amazing feeling once you get over the block and begin pushing the boundaries of math and science forward. It helps to have a mentor to bounce ideas around and to talk to if you get stuck.” He also said that if students “know what you want to do,” he recommends, “contacting college professors and local university research programs. The more you look, the more you’ll find. There are tons of opportunities – go for it.” 

In addition, he recommends that student researchers show the depth of their thinking, demonstrate the effort made and their passion for their research subject as they explore new ideas, and that they also communicate an understanding of how these new ideas might affect themselves and the world.

Michael is a product of Plano schools having attend Plano ISD throughout his school career. He discovered his love of mathematics at an early age - as a second grader who liked doing math problems. Two Plano ISD math teachers were influential to him due to their mentorship. He said that his third through fifth grade elementary school math teacher Susan Dobrey helped to “spark his interest in math” by encouraging him to think in creative ways. Another influential teacher was Rice Middle School math teacher Laura Liu. Michael said that, “Ms. Liu encouraged me to work on my own and explore new ideas.” Ms. Liu remembers Michael as an amazing young man with exceptional talents in mathematics. “Even in middle school he was a dedicated and curious student of mathematics who was always reaching for new levels of mastery. He also shared his passion for math with his peers by helping and teaching them to solve challenging math problems.” Michael also credits the Math Rocks and Math Counts programs in helping him to learn to think outside the box mathematically and to prepare him with the skills he would need as his interests expanded.

He is an active member of the Plano West math club. Over the years, Michael has taken part in the American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) as a student at Wyatt, Rice, Jasper and now Plano West.  Because of his continued success in these competitions, he has been selected to take part in several next-level invitational competitions such as Math Olympiad where he has earned much success. 

He began research on his project in January 2017. According to Michael, “Using a computer program I wrote, I collected data on the number of non-trivial equivalence classes of various permutation patterns and pattern replacements. The results enabled me to disprove a previously published mathematical conjecture and to formulate a more sophisticated version of it. And, I was able to generalize the mathematically famous Erdos-Szekeres Theorem, extending it to have meaning in the context of permutation pattern-replacement equivalences. These relationships can be used by mathematicians to understand common algebraic structures, and have potential applications in computer science as well as in automatic code optimization theory.” For more information about his project, see his project summary and abstract.

As a Regeneron finalist, Michael is now looking forward to the final competition in Washington D.C. where projects will undergo a rigorous judging process and compete for more than $1.8 million in awards. Finalist will have the opportunity to interact with leading scientists, meet with members of Congress and display their projects to the public at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on March 11. The finalists are each awarded at least $25,000, and the top 10 awards range from $40,000 to $250,000. The top 10 Regeneron Science Talent Search 2018 winners will be announced at a black-tie gala awards ceremony at the National Building Museum on March 13.

“This year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists are some of the best and brightest young scientists and mathematicians in our country,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science & the Public and publisher of Science News. “Their projects demonstrate the remarkable power of scientific curiosity, commitment and the desire to make the world a better place. We are eager to see how they shape the future of STEM in our country and impact people all across the globe.”

Michael is the son of Sarah Zhou and Wenhua Ma and is grateful for their support and encouragement, as well as the excellent teachers and opportunities available in Plano ISD.