Ying Science Competition Names Two Winners for 2020 Top Prize!

Two teens take home the top prize in the prestigious Ying Science Competition!

A pandemic can’t stop our two decades old tradition of honoring outstanding teen scientists! Since 1999, Dr. Nelson Ying — local scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist — has partnered with Orlando Science Center to celebrate the exemplary achievements of local high school students.


Among the five finalists this year, two projects so impressed Dr. Ying and the judges that these students—Nathan Foo and Ian Henriques — were both named Grand Prize Winners at an awards ceremony held in a Zoom session on Sunday, April 19. Each winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship, a $1,000 award for his science teacher or mentor, and an additional $1,000 for his school. The other finalists received $1,000 prizes to continue their research.


To compete in the Dr. Ying Science Competition, each entrant must perform a research project that has the ultimate goal of benefiting humanity. Finalists presented their findings during a Zoom session on Saturday, April 18.


Finalists usually defend their research each year before the assembled judges at Orlando Science Center and attend an awards ceremony the next day at Dubsdread Country Club in nearby College Park. Unfortunately, Orlando Science Center has been closed to the public as a public health precaution due to COVID-19. Dr. Ying and Orlando Science Center didn’t want to reschedule this competition so it moved online.


Meet the winners of the 2020 Dr. Ying Science Competition

Nathan Foo is 16 year-old junior at Brevard County’s West Short Jr./Sr. High School. He mechanized a system of “kangaroo care,” which addresses the incubation needs of preterm infants. Using mice as test subjects, Nathan used an Arduino circuit to control a vibration motor, which simulated a mother’s heartbeat, and attached it to a mat. The baby mice sit on the mat and it simulates the skin to skin contact that they would get from their mother, a procedure also known as kangaroo care.


Nathan’s invention could be used in developing countries where incubators for preterm infants were either not affordable or unavailable. He was inspired by his cousin’s experience in Malaysia, who was born premature. Nathan follows in his sister’s footsteps, who won the 2018 Dr. Ying Science Competition. He wants to study statistics and ultimately pursue social entrepreneurship and make a change in the world with his business skills.

Nathan Foo, winner of the 2020 Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition, and family


Ian Henriques is a 16 year-old junior from Seminole County’s Seminole High School. He developed a simple, open source model for controlling drones during natural disasters that conserves fuel and avoids collisions. Ian’s project was inspired by his passion for computer programming. A self-taught programmer, he noticed that most algorithms for controlling drones are proprietary and not available to the public.


Since drones can be used for providing relief during natural disasters, he wanted a simple and efficient way to control them that could be available for use in developing countries. Ian’s research also has commercial applications since it helps to operate drones faster and more efficiently, maximizing benefit and minimizing cost. He is currently in dual enrollment at UCF and would like to ultimately go to MIT for computer engineering.

Ian Henriques, winner of the 2020 Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition, and family

The remaining Ying finalists each received $1,000 prizes

Dr. Ying decided to award the other finalists each with $1,000 cash prizes for their research. The remaining finalists included:


  • Kyle Bramblett, 17 year-old senior from Brevard County’s Titusville High School, for trying to see if an artificial calcite structure could have significant effects on reducing ocean acidification, increasing oyster growth and improving water quality. A Florida Native, Kyle’s project was inspired by his love of the ocean. He realized over the years how murky the water had become due to ocean acidification and designed a way to address it.
  • Varsha Naga, 15 year-old sophomore from Seminole County’s Winter Springs High School, for engineering a nanoparticle coating on catheters to prevent bacteria from adhering to them. This coating reduces the accumulation of biofilm, which ultimately reduces the risk of infection and death. Varsha lost a friend to a catheter-related infection, which inspired her research.
  • Pranav Swaminathan, 17 year-old junior from Volusia County’s Spruce Creek High School, for designing a simple, practical device for vehicles to reduce carbon emissions. Pranav’s project was inspired by smelling the exhaust fumes from a passing car during a childhood bike ride. He realized that every car on the road was producing these emissions and something needed to be done about it. Pranav believes every living thing has a right to breathe clean air.


History of the Ying Competition at Orlando Science Center

Dr. Nelson Ying is a longtime supporter of Orlando Science Center. After sponsoring numerous exhibits and serving on the board, he decided to try something new. He wanted to support the Science Center’s mission to inspire science learning for life while also creating an opportunity to encourage exceptional science achievement among young people.


He and Fred Curtis, another long-time Science Center volunteer and donor, started the Dr. Ying Science Competition in 1999. Ying hopes to inspire young people to become good role models and successful world-changers by leveraging their passion for science. Dr. Ying’s son, Nelson Jr., now oversees the competition with Ying and Curtis in collaboration with Orlando Science Center. 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.