The classroom buzzed with students sharing stories and laughing as they poured cups of soda to celebrate the capstones of their research, and one student in particular.
The whiteboard at the front of Erika Rotolo’s science research class at Salisbury’s W.T. Clarke High School read, “Congratulations Abishek Ravindran,” acknowledging the 17-year-old who had just been named one of 300 scholars in the 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search.
As excited as Ravindran was to have his work honored and to discuss it with the Herald, however, he was just as inspired by his friends and family. “A lot of people are collaborative and supportive of each other,” he said. “Not just in the research class, but in the entire school.”
Abishek’s brother, Pavithran, who graduated from Clarke in 2015, was also a scholar in what was then known as the Intel Science Talent Search. “He definitely opened those doors for me,” Abishek said, “and showed me what was possible with science research.”
Pavithran, who graduated from Princeton University last spring, focused his high school research on chemistry in medicine. For his part, Abishek said he had always been more interested in economics and business, like his parents.
The boys’ father, Thangavadiwel, is a controller for the courier company DHL, and their mother, Selvamathi, studied economics, though she did not pursue a financial career. Both are originally from Sri Lanka.
At first, Abishek said, he didn’t see himself following his brother’s path in scientific research until he learned that it didn’t have to be all about pure science. “Once I realized that you could apply the social sciences to your project, I wanted to take the opportunity to explore some of the problems most people are facing today,” he said.
As he spoke about his project, his eyes lit up, and he smiled after each sentence of explanation. His project is titled “Implementation of Novel Sector Weight and Google Trends Data Objectives using MOEA/D Curtails Systematic Risk for Quintessential Investors.” He based his research on the Modern Portfolio Theory, developed by Henry Markowitz in 1952, which is an algorithm to help investors organize their assets to yield the greatest returns that factors in the economy’s level of risk.
But, Ravindran noted, the model focuses on wealthy investors, like businesses and large corporations. He wanted to tailor the model to middle-class people who invest in their education, housing and retirement. He began work on the project last summer in Stony Brook University’s Applied Mathematics and Statistics Department, under Professor Yuefan Deng.
Using data from Google Trends, Ravindran determined which assets have the highest risks and returns. He used two sets of data, one from 2003 to 2007 and another from the Great Recession, in 2008 and 2009. Then he created an algorithm to help people make the most profitable decision when assembling their portfolios.
Ravindran said that the experience was humbling, and that his conclusions couldn’t reverse major economic crises or make for a more effective model than Markowitz’s. “As much as you think you could solve major problems,” he said, “it’s more about making incremental steps toward something larger.”
Ravindran’s award included a $2,000 prize for Clarke, and a chance at being named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron competition on Jan. 22. If selected, he would receive a free trip to Washington, D.C., March 5-11, for the final stage of the contest and the opportunity to compete for more than $1.8 million in awards.
“He has dedicated a great deal of time and hard work to his astonishing research project,” Rotolo said of Ravindran. “We’re all so proud that he’s been recognized as a highly esteemed Regeneron scholar.”
Aside from his research, Ravindran is involved in Clarke’s DECA business club as well as the state chapter, as vice president of finance. He is also a member of Clarke’s Math Honor Society and the Chamber Orchestra, and founded the Entrepreneurship Club.
He already has plans for his own business, in which he hopes to continue his science research and coach new investors. He is also looking to launch an app that matches investors with mutual funds that most effectively meet their needs.
Asked about the most inspiring part of his work, Ravindran said it’s the opportunity to contribute to existing ideas and theories. “The idea that I could make steps toward something bigger always drives me,” he said.