For over 60 years, the has been recognized as the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science competition, providing a national stage for the country’s best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists. With over 1750 applicants, 300 semifinalists selected, and only 40 finalists chosen, YULA Boys High School is proud to announce that YULA Senior Asher Willner was selected as a finalist in this year’s competition. Asher is the only student from a Jewish high school in the entire country to be recognized for his unique work in the STEM field. He will also receive an $8,500 award from the Intel Foundation and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. in March to compete for top honors in the competition.
Asher performed his research with graduate students in his father’s Optical Communications Laboratory at USC. With crucial help from his PhD student mentors, Asher embarked on a research project in optical communication systems in the field of electrical engineering. He encoded digital data by rapidly changing the “twisted” shape of a laser beam, such that one shape represented certain data bits and a different shape represented another data bit sequence. By using many different possible beam shapes, Asher was able to transmit 20 billion bits of data in one second using a laser beam and increased the system data capacity.
According to Willner, being selected as the only Jewish student in the entire competition was “a wonderful feeling,” especially “if my actions can serve as a Kiddush Hashem.” After graduation in June, Asher will be attending Yeshiva in Israel, followed by the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where he plans to continue his engineering studies. Setting an example for other students interested in the sciences, Willner credits YULA with piquing his interest in the field. “One of my inspirations to perform the research came from the YULA CIJE Engineering courses I took as a sophomore and junior. Learning essential engineering skills in those classes helped me tremendously for my research. Specifically, I learned to solder in class, a skill I used in the lab as well when putting together various electronic equipment. Also, I had a lot of fun in those classes, spurring my interest to pursue more engineering based projects.”
The last three and a half years at YULA as a whole have been extremely powerful for Asher. As he explained, “My time at YULA I will always cherish. YULA’s educational rigor, the demand for excellence, and the teachers’ foundational support in both Limudei Kodesh and General studies have well-prepared me for my upcoming years in Yeshiva and college. Relationships with my Rebbeim, who are always there to help and guide me, and with my awesome friends, are ones that I desire to continue and keep close long after graduation.”
Rabbi Emerson congratulated Asher in remarks to the student body: “We are so proud of Asher for this incredible achievement, which is a testimony to his hard work and dedication. More importantly, Asher represents a role model for all of us to look up to. Just as Asher is dedicated to his research, he is also dedicated to his Middot Tovot, to his Limmud HaTorah, and to achieving excellence in all that he does. I cannot think of a more deserving recipient of this honor.”