How Sejal Gupta’s quest for mobility led to a Regeneron Talent Search nod
What started with a sprained ankle led to Hicksville High School’s Sejal Gupta having a shot at winning a quarter of a million dollars thanks to her recently being named a 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar. The Regeneron Science Talent Search is the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science competition. Its alumni have made extraordinary contributions to science and hold more than 100 of the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science. While Gupta was not among the Top 40 finalists announced last month, she was selected from 1,993 entrants and received a $2,000 award, with an additional $2,000 going to her school.
She was one of 300 national Regeneron Scholars eligible for a grand prize of $250,0000 and a chance to be named the top Regeneron Scholar. Having worked at a lab doing research at a Stony Brook University lab since summer 2018, the senior was encouraged to enter this prestigious competition by her mentor, Anurag Purwar.
“I’d been doing this for a long time and I had heard about Regeneron. I wanted to see if there was any research similar to mine and I also wanted to see what people thought of the work I was doing,” she said. “Dr. Purwar and a lot of my research supervisors had brought [Regeneron] up and said I should definitely submit, because I’d been working on this project for such a long time.”
Gupta was selected for her project, “Development of a Machine Learning Algorithm to Predict the Path of Joints for Gait Rehabilitation.” She set out to develop a machine-learning algorithm that can predict personalized walking patterns for patients with injuries to lower extremities. In order to achieve the most effective plan for each patient’s injury, Sejal determined that age, mass, leg length and gait speed must all be factored into her algorithm to produce the ideal walking motion. Currently, she hopes to incorporate her work into a robotic exoskeleton that can guide treatment for patients. The inspiration for this idea was shaped by her own ankle injury and a desire to work on something that would make rehabilitation faster, easier and less expensive.
“I’ve been doing MMA for 10 years now. In seventh grade, the combination of that and volleyball tryouts was how I sprained my ankle. They say if you break an ankle it’s better, because at least it’ll heal. With a sprain, it never really heals. That’s what happened with my ankle, and then they both got messed up,” she recalled. “What was actually the inspiration was when I went to a thesis defense at Stony Brook University over the summer. One of the master’s students was working in the lab and he was trying to solve a rehabilitation problem using mechanisms. I started thinking about working on something that could work and can help people like me.”
Gupta worked under the guidance of Dr. Purwar, a research associate professor for the Stony Brook University Department of Mechanical Engineering. He is also the director of the school’s computer-aided design and innovation lab. The seeds for the project were planted when Gupta took a Stanford University online machine-learning course during the month of training she undertook when she first arrived at the Stony Brook lab back in 2018. She was also dabbling with a Theo Jansen Mechanism, a leg device designed by kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen intended to generate a smooth walking motion. Once the ball got rolling on her project, Gupta was crunching numbers in an algorithm that found her leaning on advice from doctoral and master’s students specializing in mechanical engineering, artificial intelligence and machine-learning software. Currently working on creating an exo-skeleton, she acknowledges how invaluable the guidance from Purwar and his research charges were, given the complexity involved with making all of this a reality.
“Having realistic ambitions was the hardest part because while coming up with the idea is the hard part, you might not have the resources to accomplish it,” Gupta said. “I came up with a list of 50 things and each one of them got shot down because maybe something hadn’t been created yet or we were just unable to do it for one reason or another. I think with all of those kinds of things, it really puts things in perspective. [My mentors] were really good at guiding the procedure. So while I would come up with the idea and conduct things, they shaped my ideas throughout the project.”
The diligence that enabled Gupta to wind up in such a prestigious science competition wasn’t surprising to Hicksville High School Principal Ray Williams.
“Sejal works so hard in everything she does,” Williams said. “No one is more deserving.”
Gupta is a member of Hicksville High School’s Science Olympiad as well as the robotics team. Outside of school, she is involved in an Innovation Entrepreneurship Café in which she teaches students in grades kindergarten through eight in STEAM. Her future career plans are in line with the idea that landed her in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, which was admittedly an enormous learning experience for her.
“In college, I want to major in computer engineering with a focus in business,” she said. “Research has been an important part of my high school career and will continue to play a major role in my future career, which will hopefully involve me starting my own company and developing prosthetics. Regeneron STS gave me the opportunity to not only display my research, but also challenge myself. Through this experience, I have met like-minded individuals interested in STEM and I am really grateful for that.”