It all began with snow.
An avid skier, Lillian noticed that the annual snow fall measurements in her New Mexico town were steadily declining from year to year and was curious as to why. Could it, she thought, be tied to El Nino? She researched the data from the local weather station records and correlated it with the snowfall yield: when El Nino’s winds were blowing the warm waters near the Equator towards North America, the winters were warmer and wetter. She was hooked on the notion of using weather data to help predict precipitation, droughts, and temperatures.
Lillian Kay Peterson was in all of 7th grade.
Fast forward to high school, where the 17-year-old used a growing passion for global data to make predictions that could help farming communities throughout the world. Her invention, a simple tool to predict harvests early in the growing season can help improve food distribution and has shown to be a promising source to address global food insecurity, won her first place in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for 2020 and the top prize of $250,000.
So, why is her invention so crucial for global food security? Because the winning project was able to map satellite images from every country in Africa to predict crop yields and how successful the harvest will be. She focused her research on that particular continent because Africa has the poorest reporting data, has the greatest need for this kind of information as farming is the main source of food for the families and children. Says Lillian by phone from her Las Alamos home, “Africa also suffers from poor reporting, a lack of responsible oversight, and the remote areas where many of these farms are located.”
Inspired by her father, who is also in the field of weather predictions, Lillian has big plans for her future. Perhaps use the money award to create a start-up business that can make an impact. That is, however, after her Harvard education, where she is torn between majoring in applied math, or molecular biology.
WAT congratulates Lillian Kay Petersen on this most prestigious award, and at such a young age. Best of luck in all your future projects, we’re sure we haven’t heard the last from you.
Formerly known as the Westinghouse, the 78-year-old competition reviews around 2,000 student entries of original research in critically important scientific fields of study which is then judged by leading experts in their fields. The Regeneron Science Talent Search focuses on identifying, inspiring and engaging the nation’s most promising young scientists who are creating the ideas that could solve society’s most urgent challenges.