Potato math: US student wins $250,000 prize for potato blight solution based on mathematical model

Benjamin "Benjy" Firester joins an elite alumni network of previous Science Talent Search winners. Since 1942, the US-wide search for the nation's brightest students has seen 13 future Nobel Laureates pass through the competition. <br /><strong><em><br />Scroll through the gallery to discover more about them</strong></em>According to a CNN report, New York student Benjamin “Benjy” Firester has won one of the United States’ top young science prizes for his research on potato late blight. The 18-year-old senior at Hunter College High School beat 1,800 students in the race to the $250,000 first prize at the Regeneron Science Talent Search, which counts 13 Nobel Prize-winners among its alumni. Firester’s project, titled “Modeling the Spatio-Temporal Dynamics of Phytophthora infestans on a Regional Scale,” mapped disease data and weather patterns to predict where spores that cause potato late blight would spread to next. 

The study involved Firester using data from Israeli farmers and weather reports of the region, factoring in humidity levels and wind direction. Firester says his mathematical model could be used in a decision support system where farmers share infection data, enabling them to make more informed decisions to protect their crops. “Benjy’s project melds several different STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields” said Sudarshan Chawathe, chair of the judging panel. CNN report