Game plan for Herricks science success

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In the past several months, the whiteboard in Renee Barcia’s Herricks High School classroom has served as an elaborate checklist.

With a large grid, Barcia, coordinator of the school’s Science Research Program, had her students track the many steps to submitting their research projects to prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, a national high school science contest she called “the junior Nobel Prize.”

While all students in the four-year program are expected to enter the Intel contest in their senior year, it’s not the only national high school research prize they successfully pursue.

Herricks seniors Sabreen Bhuiya, Ayesha Chhugani and Vikram Krishnamoorthy were named Intel semifinalists this year; and Naseem Dabiran is one of 12 finalists for a national neuroscience award.

“The students really should be commended for their diligence, their effort, their ability to multitask through the fall college application process, as well as through the Intel filing process,” Barcia said. “It really shows a level of maturity that is at the college, undergraduate level.”

The Albertson residents, all age 17, were recognized for year-long laboratory research projects they conducted under professional researchers.

Dabiran’s study of how early the degradation of the brain’s dopamine receptors happens among schizophrenia patients is being considered for the American Academy of Neurologists’ high school Neuroscience Research Prize.

Dabiran said she became interested in neuroscience after he grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. 

SUNY Stony Brook professor Annette Biegone, her research adviser, eventually encouraged her to investigate schizophrenia.

“After I started studying more about schizophrenia, I kind of grew to be as passionate as I am about Alzheimer’s,” she said.

Bhuiya’s project, one of about 300 picked for Intel’s semifinals, studied the relationship between magnesium deficiency and oxidative stress, a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough antioxidants, among pregnant women.

She did her research under Dr. Christine Metz in a lab at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

Working with Stony Brook physics professor Abhay Deshpande, Chhugani examined how “magnetic field traps” can be used to more easily transport ions used for MRIs to potentially increase access to medical imaging technology.

Krishnamoorthy studied how the fenugreek plant could be genetically altered to more effectively fight diabetes. He worked under scientists Frederico Casares and Kirk Mantione at SUNY Old Wesbury.

All three Intel semifinalists said the potential human impact of their research keeps them passionate about science. That’s something that also carries weight for Intel when it selects semifinalists, Barcia said, and a goal of Herricks’ Science Research Program.

“It’s about how you take this sort of academic, almost, research, and you can use it to have an actual impact,” Krishnamoorthy said.

The three received a $1,000 award from the Intel Foundation and are eligible to advance to the contest’s finals later this month.

The four Neruoscience Research Prize winners will be announced at the American Academy of Neurologists’ April conference in Vancouver.

Herricks’ program is one of several on Long Island that aims to give students advanced scientific experience before entering college.

The 150 students in the program all work in laboratories at some point, either conducting summer research projects or longer studies lasting one of two years, Barcia said.

All four students said science research is one of several extracurricular activities at Herricks that’s prepared them well for their next steps in life.

Science research students grow close by spending many hours together, Dabiran said, and getting so much experience in a lab is an invaluable foundation for the future.

“I thought research was something old people … were doing at college,” she said. “It was reserved for really smart people — like a special group of people. And then I became a part of that group.”

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