Children of Indian and Chinese Parents Among Nation’s Top Science Students

A new study shows that most of America’s top high school science students are the children of immigrants. More specifically, the research shows that 70 percent of the finalists (28 of 40) at the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition had immigrant parents.

For the research, I interviewed the finalists at this year’s competition, as well as a number of the parents, to determine immigration background. The study has received some interest, including an article in the San Jose Mercury News. A copy of the study can be found here.

It follows earlier research conducted in 2004 that showed the children of immigrants were the majority of finalists at the Intel Science Talent Search, as well as the majority of members of the U.S. math and physics teams.


Indian and Chinese Parents

As Table 1 shows, most of the 40 student finalists at the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search were from India and China. There were 16 children with parents born in China, 10 had parents born in India, as well as one parent from Iran and one from South Korea. Twelve of the parents were native-born.

To place these numbers in perspective, in 2009, Indians comprised only 0.8 percent of the U.S. population and Chinese made up only 1 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In proportion to their presence in the U.S. population, one would expect only one child of an Indian (or Chinese) immigrant parent every two and a half years to be an Intel Science Talent Search finalist, not 10 in a year.

Table 1

Country of Birth for Parents of 40 Finalists of 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Competition

China 16
United States 12
India 10
Iran 1
South Korea 1

Source: National Foundation for American Policy. Based on interviews conducted with finalists and parents.

Immigration Category Breakdown

Only 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born and less than 1 percent is made up of current or former H-1B visa holders. Yet the 24 individuals hired on H-1B visas (and then sponsored for green cards) represented the single greatest source of parents with children at this year’s Intel Science Talent Search finals. Fourteen of those 24 were first international students.

Table 2

Immigration Category for Immigrant Parents of 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Finalists

Employment (H-1B and Later Employer-Sponsorship) 24
International Student* 14
Family-Sponsored 3
Refugee 1

Source: National Foundation for American Policy. Based on interviews conducted with finalists and parents. *Note: International students who stayed in the United States after graduation did so on H-1 or H-1B visas.

One should also note that three of the parents were sponsored through a family preference category; one received refugee status after applying for asylum. Eight of the children were themselves born outside the United States.

Table 3

2011 Intel Science Talent Search Finalists With Indian-American Immigrant Parents

Name Parents Birthplace Hometown, State
Aggarwal, Amol India Saratoga, California
Arora, Shubhangi* India Novi, Michigan
Atolia, Eta* India Tallahassee, Florida
Joardar, Rounok India Plano, Texas
Mahajan, Rohan India Cupertino, California
Mukhopadhyay, Prithwis Kumar* India Woodbury, Minnesota
Pai, Sunil Kochikar India Houston, Texas
Parthasarathy, Nikhil India Mountain View, California
Rangwala, Alydaar India Loudonville, New York
Saha, Shubhro India Avon, Connecticut

Source: National Foundation for American Policy, Society for Science & the Public. *Born abroad.

Beyond the Numbers

While the numbers are interesting, they represent stories filled with both hope and promise. Samar Saha, father of Shubhro Saha, came to America on an H-1B visa to work in information technology.  His son Shubhro, 18, from Avon, Connecticut, worked with a super computer to identify a possible mechanism for the interaction of the catalyst in hydrogen production. The goal is to make hydrogen easier to use as an alternative energy source. He has presented his research at General Electric. Born in Calcutta, Mr. Saha said, “We came to America for the opportunity and quality of life. I am grateful that my son has been able to take advantage of the opportunities this country offers.”

The father of Rohan Mahajan came to America from India as a graduate student and today works for Cisco in Silicon Valley. Rohan said, “I got interested in energy production because whenever we went to India the power always went out.” For the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition he researched methods of improving the efficiency of photoelectrochemical cells and found a way that increased light absorption of the photoelectrodes, which could have applicability to photovoltaic (solar) cells.

Alydaar Rangwala, whose parents were born in India, found that long wave UV light might work as a treatment for the treatment of lupus, as well as LCH and scleroderma. Prithwis Kumar Mukhopadhyay, who was born in India, has researched whether carrageenan, a food additive, may be linked to malignant cancers.


The research shows that Americans gain much from being open to immigrants who come here seeking a better future for their children. It’s a positive story about how a country gains from being open to people from other cultures and how children possess an enormous capacity to assimilate and excel.

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