Winners of 2023 ‘Distinguished Trailblazers in the Sciences’ Announced

  • Collage of students and science related graphics

Middle and high school students are recognized during virtual awards ceremony

NEWPORT NEWS, VA – The U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, Michigan State University (MSU) and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) honored the winners of the 2023 “Distinguished Trailblazers in the Sciences” competition during a virtual ceremony on Jan. 22, 2024.

The outreach activity is open to middle and high school students nationwide. Participants highlight scientists and engineers from minority and underrepresented ethnic/racial groups who have excelled in or contributed to the fields of nuclear science, accelerator science and accelerator engineering.

The program seeks to foster creativity and encourages students to share what they have learned by creating an original artistic design expression, personalized poem, musical performance (song/rap), video, or poster to highlight their selected Distinguished Trailblazer in the Sciences.

 Five years ago, Paul Gueye, Associate Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, sought to bridge a gap in the need for underrepresented groups and founded the Students Training and Engagement Program for Undergraduates in Physics outreach program.

“It is paramount to continuously expose all students very early in their education to increase representation in STEM fields”, said Gueye. “We are all inspired by the talents of all of these bright students and looking forward to their impacts in basic and applied nuclear science, and beyond.”

The top three winners from each category are awarded a cash prize. Additionally, high school winners are offered sponsored attendance in the week-long Physics of Atomic Nuclei program, which will take place at MSU in the summer of 2024.

"Nurturing diverse scientific talent is vital to pushing the boundaries of discovery," said Cynthia Keppel, Jefferson Lab's associate director for experimental nuclear physics. "We are proud to partner with Michigan State University and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams on the 'Distinguished Trailblazers in the Sciences' program. This program allows us to inspire young minds and celebrate the contributions of underrepresented scientists in nuclear and accelerator science and engineering."

This year's entries showcased exceptional talent and dedication. Students explored the inspiring stories of scientists like Chien-Shiung Wu, a Chinese American physicist known for disproving the hypothetical ‘law of conservation of parity,’ and Homi J. Bhabha, an Indian nuclear physicist credited for developing the ‘Bhabha Scattering’, a process that is still used today as a luminosity monitor in electron-positron collider physics experiments.

Through original poems, captivating videos, and impactful art, these young minds brought history to life, highlighting the critical role of diversity and inclusion in scientific progress.

2023 Winners:

Grades 5-8

  • First Place: Esther Cohen-Lin, Kinawa Middle School, Okemos, Mich.
  • Second Place: Mahi Patel, Liberty Middle School, Tampa, Fla.
  • Third Place: Nathan Ponnudurai, Larson Middle School, Troy, Mich.

Grades 9-12

  • First Place: Disha Abburi, Hillsborough High School, Tampa, Fla.
  • Second Place: Elizabeth Guyard, Jupiter Community High School, Jupiter, Fla.
  • Third Place: Josh Dupuis, East Lansing High School, East Lansing, Mich.

During the ceremony, leadership representatives from FRIB and Jefferson Lab honored students for their work and encouraged them to continue on the adventure that is the field of nuclear physics.

Attendees made note of the wide range of project submissions and how impressed they were at the levels of creativity and attention to detail the students demonstrated.

“These students have explored the history of science and brought to life some of the discoveries that make our modern research possible. I hope to one day see the new discoveries, advances and innovations that come from the minds of our young presenters,” Keppel said.

Applications for next year will open in the fall of 2024. To learn more, including links to winner submissions, or to enter the competition, please visit

Contact Michelle Alvarez, Jefferson Lab Communications Office,


Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. JSA is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. (SURA).

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit