Senior Max Bee-Lindgren named finalist for national science competition


A pen at a specific height, representing one discrete energy level and the calculations surrounding it

Adrien Tirouvanziam

Decatur High School student Max Bee-Lindgren was named a finalist in the annual Regeneron Science Talent Search competition, a nationwide high school program encompassing all areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Bee-Lindgren, a senior at DHS whose project was titled “Calculating Transition Amplitudes of an Observable Using the Rodeo Algorithm for Quantum Computing”, will attend a weeklong showcase between Mar. 9 and 16 and compete for over $1.8 million in total prizes. 


I’ve always wanted to know why things work on a fundamental level,” Bee-Lindgren said. “So my parents tell me stories of how as a toddler I would constantly ask them why things happened, and then once they reached a reasonable explanation, I would keep asking why. And eventually this led to some complicated physics thing.”


Bee-Lindgren started exploring higher level physics topics at the beginning of high school, which eventually led him to apply for the Research Science Institute (RSI) summer program after his junior year. At RSI, Bee-Lindgren began his research project on quantum mechanics.


“[RSI] is also where I found out about the Science Talent Search. One of the people involved with it spoke at the closing of the program and pretty much invited everyone to apply, so I applied,” Bee-Lindgren said.


Bee-Lindgren’s project delves into the transitions between energy states of quantum systems, which “sound very scary, but they’re relatively simple,” he explains. He uses the analogy of a pen that can be held at any height with an energy directly proportional to the height.


“So in a quantum system, I can only hold a pen at specific heights, so this limits the possible energies of the system. These energies tend to be very annoying to calculate, but they’re still really important because they basically describe how the system behaves. So recently, quantum computing algorithms have been developed and tested that can calculate these energy states. And what I did is I modified one of those algorithms,” Bee-Lindgren said.


By isolating multiple energy states (proportional to the pen heights in the analogy), Bee-Lindgren was able to calculate the probability of a quantity moving from one energy state to another, or vice versa. 


Out of the 40 finalists in the Science Talent Search competition, Bee-Lindgren had the only project relating to quantum physics. Other projects examined subjects such as sociology, biological modeling, or the consequences of COVID-19.


Bee-Lindgren describes the final week of the competition as a “showcase” of the projects, where members of the scientific community can view the work and ask general questions to the finalists. 


“Roughly half of the weight for the top ten awards comes down to project judging. So a bunch of judges who are probably more familiar with my research project than I am will ask me a bunch of questions about what I’ve done, and that’s kind of towards the end of the week, so days 4 and 5 roughly,” Bee-Lindgren said.


The other half of the competition consists of general science questions, relating to concepts such as modeling, problem solving, experimental design and general knowledge. The minimum prize for all finalists including Bee-Lindgren is $25,000, with the top ten participants receiving increasing rewards between $40,000 and $250,000. 


The Society for Science, which is the organization hosting the competition along with biotech company Regeneron, will also host a completely public day on Mar. 16, with members outside of the scientific community invited, though the event will be live streamed.


“I think the Society for Science wants to open it up, or at least make it more enticing, for people who don’t have doctorates and whatnot to be involved,” Bee-Lindgren said.


After the final competition, Bee-Lindgren expects to pursue physics at a higher level.


“I don’t want to rule out the possibility of also pursuing other fields,” he said, “but for now it seems most likely that I’ll get an undergraduate then a graduate degree in physics and pursue research in some way, shape or form.