High School Students’ COVID-19 Projects Take Top Prizes at Ying Science Competition!

Central Florida teens who change the world


Pandemic Inspires High School Students COVID-19 projects to Develop Better Face Coverings and Filtration Systems!

Since 1999, Dr. Nelson Ying — local scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist — has partnered with Orlando Science Center to celebrate outstanding science students through his sponsorship of the Ying Student Science Competition. Among the four finalists this year, two projects inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic so impressed the judges that both students— Annika Vaidyanathan and Ishika Nag — were named Grand Prize Winners during a virtual ceremony this past weekend.

The awards were presented by Ying’s son, Nelson Ying, Jr. and Fred Curtis, co-founder of the competition and longtime Orlando Science Center volunteer and donor. Annika Vaidyanathan and Ishika Nag receive a $5,000 scholarship, a $1,000 award for their science teacher or mentor, and an additional $1,000 for their school. The remaining finalists also received cash prizes to help fund their continued research. To compete in the Dr. Ying Science Competition, each entrant must be a Central Florida high school student and pursue a research project that has the ultimate goal of benefiting humanity. Finalists presented their findings during video meetings with a judges’ panel of educators, engineers and scientists. This is the second year that the competition has been held virtually instead of in person due to the pandemic.


COVID-19 influenced both high school students Annika Vaidyanathan and Ishika Nag's winning projects.

Annika, a junior at Winter Springs High School, wanted to increase the effectiveness of face masks to help slow the spread of the virus. She developed and tested a coating that would cause COVID-19 virus-sized nanoparticles to bead and roll right off a face mask, creating greater protection for the wearer. She also looked at ways to manufacture this coating safely and cost-effectively. 

Annika Vaidyanathan - One of the Central Florida Teens Change the World


Meanwhile, Ishika, a sophomore at Oviedo High School, was focused on improving the efficiency and affordability of air filtration devices, like both masks and HVAC filters, by coating them with nanoparticles. Ishika’s research showed that this coating improved a mask’s air pollution and virus filtration efficiency while ensuring its safety for human use. She was originally inspired to pursue this multi-year project after visiting a friend who had moved to New Delhi.

She saw firsthand how much her friend’s life had been impacted due to the change in air quality. The global pandemic then convinced this Central Florida teen to create a low-cost, high-quality filtration device that could protect people from both pollution and airborne viruses, not only locally but around the world.

Ishika Nag


The competition also awarded the remaining two finalists cash prizes to further their research. Nikhil Iyer, a junior at Edgewood Junior/Senior High School in Merritt Island, won $1,000 for his research on improving machine learning by modeling artificial neural networks after the human brain using virtual neurotransmitters.

NIKHIL IYER - One of the Central Florida Teens Change the World


Gustavo Toledo, a senior at Edgewood, won $500 for his research to improve the hydrodynamic efficiency of autonomous underwater vehicles by testing torpedo models with various golf ball-sized surface textures. Nikhil’s project could increase the efficiency of artificial intelligence while Gustavo’s project could enable underwater research vehicles to go further and collect more data over a longer period of time.

Gustavo Toledo

Dr. Nelson Ying is a longtime supporter of Orlando Science Center. After sponsoring numerous exhibits and serving on the Science Center’s board of trustees, he decided to invest the long term impact of our mission to inspire science learning for life. He and Curtis launched the Dr. Ying Science Competition in 1999 to encourage exemplary science students to use their knowledge and skills to address real-world problems.

Dr. Ying’s son, Nelson Jr., now oversees the competition with Ying and Curtis in collaboration with Orlando Science Center. They hope to inspire young people to become good role models and successful world-changers by leveraging their passion for science. Past winners of the Dr. Ying Science Competition have gone onto prestigious universities, such as MIT and Johns Hopkins, and fascinating STEM careers, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.