YULA Student Selected as Finalist in Intel Science Talent Search


Anna Glatt

For over 60 years, the Intel Science Talent Search has been recognized as the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science competition. It provides a national stage for the country’s 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 to be recognized by the selection committee. He will 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 the field of electrical engineering. Focusing on optical communication systems, 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, which increased the system data capacity.

Yula - Asher at work in the Optical Communications Laboratory at USC

Asher at work in the Optical Communications Laboratory at USC

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. Once at Columbia, he plans to continue his engineering studies.

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…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.”

Willner has benefited from the last three and a half years at YULA. 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.”

YULA Boys High School Head of School Rabbi Dov 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.”

Yashar koach Asher!