intel science talent search
By ANGELA MONTEFINISE
wonder why clouds don’t fall out of the sky, or why the human immune
system doesn’t fight off tumors?
Ever try to figure out how cockroaches are related to allergies, or whether the universe is going to recollapse on itself?
Twenty-two science wiz kids from Queens have not only thought about it, they have done the research and conducted in depth lab experiments over the past three years to find the answers.
Jan. 15, their hard work paid off. The high school seniors were named
semifinalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, a nationwide
competition that has challenged the country’s young, scientific minds for
participate in a three-year program at their schools, choose a topic that
interests them, find a professional scientist to be a mentor, conduct work
mostly over the summer, and submit a paper to Intel. Of the 1,581 projects
submitted by students at 164 schools across the country, only 300
semifinalists were chosen, including the 22 Queens kids.
semifinalists will receive $1,000 for themselves and for their high schools,
and will be considered by Intel to be named finalists on Jan. 29. The 40
finalists will go to Washington D.C. for a banquet in March, and one final
winner of the “junior Nobel Prize” will be named on March 11.
This year, 10 students from five Queens high schools were named semifinalists, along with 12 Queens residents who attend schools outside of the borough. The students, who almost all plan to go to medical school, are from across the borough, and like Queens, represent the globe, with some students born in China, Poland, and India.
The mysteries surrounding terminal illnesses such as cancer and AIDS were tackled by several Queens residents in their Intel projects, including Flushing resident and Stuyvesant student Kevin Lai, whose project examines why proteins that normally activate molecules that allow T-Cells to form conjugates and fight tumors do not do so in cases of human cancer.
concluded that the proteins cannot localize in the space between the T-Cells
and the tumor, and he said, “If we know why they can’t bond, we can
improve amino acid therapy for cancer.”
same concept was used by 17-year-old Poland native and current Glendale
resident Monika Laszkowska, who investigated the gene p53 in the human body.
The gene is only activated when cancer develops in the human body. In normal
cells, the gene is suppressed by another gene called Sir2. When cancer does
form, it means that Sir2 is still suppressing p53, so Laszkowska used a new
method called RNAI to insert RNA into the cells and force the extraction of
p53 to fight the tumor.
Park resident and Hunter College High School student Emily Yau decided to
study the gene ERR-10, which creates a product of the same name that serves
as an inhibitor to the effects of breast cancer. The gene was recently
discovered, and Yau was working to discover its exact function and what it
can be used for.
addition to cancer studies, Little Neck resident and Townsend Harris student
Jessica Hetherington studied Integrase, the protein in the HIV virus that is
believed to infect human cells, and determined that it cannot infect a cell
alone, but needs other proteins. She said, “I hope to continue my research
to eventually look at other proteins and determine the actual combination
that infects cells . . . This will help create methods of treatment.”
Science student and Queens Village resident Jay Ramesh worked on a project
studying two proteins with similar structures – one found in cattle that
has a defined structure, and one in humans that does not have an accurate
structure. Ramesh tried to mutate the structure of the first protein to
create a semi-accurate picture of the second protein, known as CCR5, which
bonds with HIV proteins to form the disease. Ramesh said, “If we know the
structure of CCR5, we can work to develop treatment.” He said he’s still
fine tuning the model, but has been successful in creating a “somewhat
Woodhaven resident and Stuyvesant student Betty Luan had her head in the clouds while doing her Intel project, which asserted that a self-propelled air convection current keeps clouds at a stable height in the sky.
created a mathematical formula with 28 variables to test the system, and so
far, she said, it resembles a perfect system. “We take normal things like
clouds for granted. I became interested in them, so I did the project,”
Stuyvesant student and Hollis Hills resident Michael Shaw went beyond the
sky to investigate how hydrogen and helium become condensed enough to become
stars. Shaw believes that supernova explosions move the gas around in such
as way that it issue to become condensed. Although he said it will “take
months to get real results,” the former American Museum of Natural History
intern said, “It’s moving along nicely.”
Newtown High School senior Qichao Hu’s work also looked at space, investigating whether the universe will collapse on itself or not. The Chinese native and Rego Park resident investigated the newly found properties of “dark matter” and Redshift value, which determine density and the speed by which the universe expands. He concluded, using computer simulations, that eventually the universe will deflate.
For some Intel semifinalists, the projects were personal. For Elmhurst resident and St. Francis Prep student Erwin Wang, the loss of his grandmother to cancer when he was in fourth grade motivated him to do his project on the disease, focusing on a gene called “Chip Gene.” He looked at the gene’s affect on the body’s Androgen Receptor, which does not protect the body as it should during prostate cancer. He said the results are not complete yet, but the gene did work to activate the receptor to fight tumors.
St. Francis Prep student and St. Albans resident Christina Morgan also tried
to help those close to her by studying Crohn’s Disease, an illness that
effects people she knows and causes bowel inflammation but has no known
cause. She examined the diets of people who have the disease to see if there
is a connection between milk and the disease. She said there is a “clear
Although Bayside resident and Stuyvesant student Varun Narenda doesn’t have any relatives with Gaucher disease – a genetic mutation which causing abnormal enzyme secretion, an accumulation of lipids, and the death of cells that accumulate in the body, causing problems as serious as brain damage – he said he hopes to help other families suffering from the disease through his project, which was to create the first mathematical model of the disease through computer simulations to find a way to treat it.
resident and Stuyvesant student Alexander Ellis was able to tread on new
territory by creating an apparatus that, when placed on the outside of a
laser, can create a pure mode called Alguerre Gaussian.
beam is special because it is orbital, and can spin particles in an optical
trap, propelling a small motor. Although he said he’s not sure what the
motor can be used for yet, the property of exerting torque on something
“very, very small,” can lead to more research.
student and Jackson Heights resident John Hui also did something new by
trying to map the DNA structure of Campylobacter bacteria, which usually
affects cattle and stops them from reproducing. He said the bacteria can go
undetected by the immune system because the bacteria are deviant, and said,
“So far, I’ve been successful in mapping it, which will make it easier
to treat the nation in areas like third world countries, where there isn’t
Harris student and Jamaica resident Jonathan Kamler creating a “soap
scum,” or large, flat soap bubble, to create the conditions of an undersea
pond or of plaque definition in a blood vessel two similar atmosphers. He
said by created the conditions he can better understand the systems, which
he has done successfully. He said he became interested in the subject
because he loves sailing, and said, “I noticed how heat, wind and water
mixed and it got me interested in systems.”
Point resident and Bronx Science student Emmanuel Sin has always been
interested in astronauts, and did his Intel project on their loss of bone
density, and how to measure it.
discovered a way to measure bone loss by taking urine samples and measuring
the byproduct of broken down bone. Taking that information, he studied
whether the current methods of measuring bone loss were adequate, and said,
“After researching, I discovered that the current method, which requires
taking urine from space to the Earth, is the best way.”
student and Oakland Gardens resident Jennifer Tze-Heng Choy worked on
Osteoarthritis, and whether a hormone secreted from the adrenal gland
effects rat cartilage. She said it did, and added, “Arthritis is known as
a physical disorder, but I studied the systemic aspects of it to see if
there are other ways to treat it.”
were the focus of Forest Hills resident and Bronx Science student Yi-Chen
Zhang, who studied whether certain pesticides actually increase the number
of amount of allergens being released from cockroaches, allergens that
contribute to inner city asthma. After studying several samples, she said,
“There was a definite increase . . . I think it’s interesting because
people think the pesticides are helping them, but they’re actually hurting
Harris student and New Hyde Park resident Bharati Kalasapudi decided to
study lung inflammation in premature babies and learn more about a protein
known as I(kappa)B(alpha), which regulates the factor that causes
inflammation. The protein can either increase or decrease inflammation, and
India native Kalasapudi explained that I(kappa) B(alpha) seems to decrease
Cells — or the cells that protect neurons in the human body — were the
focus of a project by Bayside resident and Bronx Science student Debra Liu,
who studied the “Glial Cells Missing Gene” by cloning the B3 and B4
fragments the gene taken from a fruitfly. She said a lack of Glial Cells in
a person could cause depression, and said, “This research could lead to
resident and Stuyvesant student Samba Silla decided to study peripheral
vision in his project, determining whether the eye tried to group scattered
objects in an organized way. Silla said he thought the topic was
“interesting,” and said, “I concluded that those rules and principles
Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, two Flushing residents – Alice
Shen and Sun Ling Yang – were named semifinalists, and have been friends
for four years. The two play violin together, and Yang said with a laugh,
“We help each other out. But I think she helped me more than the other way
project was to examine teeth fossils from mammals and trace the elements in
them to calculate the conditions of the time period that the fossils are
from. This could help in dating fossils, she said.
project looked at the organic compound of Alpha Lactam, which is similar in
structure to Beta Lactam, which is a functional part of penicillin. Alpha
Lactam more effective as an antibiotic because it could spark less of a
reaction, so Shen synthesized two versions of the compound to study their
principles and purposes. While one is still synthesizing, the second version
– known as the spiral version – remains stable at high heat, which is a
positive sign that it can be used in antibiotics.
to Talent Search Spokesperson Clint Tanner, Queens has traditionally done
“extremely well” in the science competition, with Townsend Harris High
School leading the pack. He said, “Townsend Harris has done well year
after year after year . . . But one thing about Queens is that a mix of
schools does well each year. It’s not just one that is successful.”
each school, teachers and faculty advisors worked hard with the students to
help them and give them words of encouragement. At Cardozo, teacher Marc
Bellow said of semifinalist Choy, “She was born bright and is a wonderful,
hardworking student . . . We’re a community here, and we know she he is
going to grow to do great things.” At Francis Lewis High School, Science
Assistant Principal Susan Watins said of Yang and Shen, “You have to
admire their persistence and hard work. These kids are the future . . .
They’re so impressive.”
Newtown High School, Assistant Principal of Science Robert Yanez praised the
semifinalists, but said, “Their work is so complicated and advanced,
it’s hard for the teachers to understand it . . . Some of these kids
should get awards for the names of their projects.”
added, “If the future is in their hands, the future’s OK.”