Fourteen North Shore students have been named Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars, with projects ranging from creating touch screens to help visually impaired people to preventing heat strokes in vehicles.
The Regeneron Science Talent Search, hosted by the Society for Science & the Public and sponsored by Regeneron, began in 1942 and has been referred to as the county’s “oldest and most prestigious” science competition. Each of the 300 high school seniors named gets $2,000, as do their respective schools for science programs.
“This year’s scholars were selected from a pool of more than 1,800 entrants based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists,” said Maya Ajmera, the president and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public.
The bulk of the students – nine – come from the Great Neck area. Three students attend John L. Miller Great Neck North High School, four attend William A. Shine Great Neck South High School, one goes to North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and a student from Kings Point goes to the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
Barbara Berkowitz, president of the Great Neck school board, said: “We are so very proud of all the students who entered their projects and delighted that seven students from Great Neck North and South High Schools as well as one student from North Shore Hebrew Academy who competed were just announced as Science Talent Search scholars. This is a remarkable achievement for this community.”
At South High School, Daniel Kim’s bioengineering project examined the possibility of using chimeric antigen receptors to fight neuroblastoma in a more effective way.
Eric Kaung, a South High student, used a special statistical sampling algorithm and simulations to study dark matter and its effect on the motion of the universe.
Michelle Xing’s environmental science project looked into the possibility of using oxidized algal nanofibers to counter lead contamination in drinking water in a low-cost and environmentally friendly way.
Cindy Wang, another South High student, used a particle accelerator to measure an electrical effect called the chiral magnetic effect from a dense subatomic soup of particles called the quark-gluon plasma.
Dr. Carol Hersh, the head of the Science Research Program of Great Neck South, said that the culture of the Great Neck schools has fostered scientific minds. But it also takes a special kind of student to operate on this high level and give summers to these projects, she said.
“Hardworking, willing to tackle very challenging things, engaged by science: I’d say that would probably be the three characteristics that go through these groups,” Hersh, who has been involved in the program for more than 20 years, said.
Hersh also noted that the work of others who are not semi-finalists should be recognized, and that making it this far is “icing on the cake” to the experience of working with researchers.
Scott Soifer, of North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, created a patented device that detects carbon dioxide levels in a vehicle, measures the temperature, automatically activates the engine and air conditioning and can relay real-time information to emergency personnel and caregivers.
Natasha Dilamani, of Great Neck North High School, created a sensory glove to allow two blind subjects to create characters in the air for wireless devices.
Amy Shteyman, another North High School student, investigated brain activity from smiles and how others responded to them.
North High School’s Megan Xu studied the preservation of microscopic early lifeforms, dating back more than 500 million years, and how total organic carbon negatively affects their transformation into fossils.
“I think just being a part of renowned competitions in the fields of science are so critically important because it taps into so many different levels of thinking, so many levels of interest,” Daniel Holtzman, principal of North High School, said in an interview. “And the viability of these projects in real-life applications is truly amazing, and it really separates the best from the best.”
“And you have the dedication of the teachers too,” Holtzman added. “Their passion for research is contagious.”
Roslyn High School seniors Spencer Lazar and Vincent Yao were honored for their projects about behavioral sciences and medical research, respectively.
“They’re terrific boys,” Roslyn’s coordinator of secondary research Allyson Weseley said. “They’re bright, they’re motivated and they’re curious. It’s terrific to see all the effort they’ve put in has paid off. I’m delighted for them.”
Lazar’s effort was an epidemiological project within the high school focused on crafting public health appeals encouraging people to get flu vaccinations with different messages.
Lazar said he designed four different fliers urging people to get vaccinations with different messages; some simply implored the reader to get a flu shot while others expanded on the basic message, including “to protect others” or “join your classmates” to see which triggered the strongest reaction to get a vaccination.
“What he found is contrary to the expectation he had going in that all approaches would be superior to the control,” Weseley said. “In fact, none differed significantly from the control. The only significant difference is the altruistic approach to protect others was significantly better than the social norm approach, but both were worse than the control.”
Yao’s project is one piece of four years of research done in an off-campus lab since his freshman year focused on the effects of Chinese herbal medications on colorectal cancer, such as the Perilla frutescens or beefsteak plant.
Weseley said Yao had identified a component of the plant that was helpful in fighting colorectal cancer in previous years, and this year he identified the molecular structure of the compound and the molecular mechanism by which it works.
Yao, who was also honored as a Siemens Competition semifinalist for the same project, said he was humbled by the second award for his research.
“It’s unreal that I was recognized by both Siemens and Regeneron for my research,” Yao said. “The chances of becoming a semi-finalist for even one of the competitions are already very slim, but it goes to show that the hours spent in the lab experimenting and persevering through obstacles did ultimately produce great results.”
Manhasset High School senior Emily Cruz began formulating her project as an intern at Alley Pond Environmental Center working with water quality research.
“It was really there that I realized I wanted to work with water conservation and water quality, especially in the natural environment,” Cruz said. “We have a huge amount of increased storm systems coming our way, and having the shores and marshes influences the damage humans are going to be taking in from these storms.”
For her project, Cruz visited Alley Creek, Iona and Pelham marshes in New York and tested the carbon in the soil to determine what kind of plants and animals lived in the areas previously when the marshes were thriving to see what effect humans have had on the natural populations.
Caitlin Maley, of Paul D. Schreiber High School, studied the impact of race on victim blaming in sexual assault cases on college campuses via identical surveys differing only with people’s names, and found that people assigned more fault to people with common African-American and Hispanic names than Caucasian ones.
John Li, a Wheatley School student, created three inventions that work together to reduce the time and cost of automobile transmission fluid and filter changes by up to three-quarters.
“John’s work was all done in house, meaning it was something that he came up with and really worked on his own and it certainly speaks to his own intellectual curiosity, his scientific abilities, as well as the support provided to him by the teachers and faculty here,” said Sean Feeney, principal of the Wheatley School. “We’re thrilled for him.”
These students make up more than a quarter of the 46 Long Islanders who were named Regeneron scholars. Jericho Senior High School had the most Regeneron scholars on the island, with 11.
Forty finalists, to be announced on Jan. 23, will be chosen to compete in Washington, D.C., from March 8 to March 14 for nearly $2 million worth of awards given by Regeneron, including a $250,000 grand prize.