By Tien-Shun Lee
Queens high-school students recently chosen as semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search awaited word to see if they would make the final cut this week in the prestigious competition sometimes referred to as the “junior Nobel Prize.
Fifteen borough students made the semifinals round this year, including two from St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows, one from Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, eight from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and four from Bronx High School of Science.
Nationwide 300 semifinalists are selected out of more than 1,500 Intel applicants each year. Last year Queens had 22 Intel semifinalists. All semifinalists receive a $1,000 scholarship in recognition of their scientific achievement, and their school receives $1,000 per semifinalist to support science and math programs.
Intel was scheduled to announce Wednesday the 40 finalists who will make an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they will be judged in the selection of the top 10 winners.
“I was completely blown away when I heard,” said Sravanthi Dama, 17, a senior at Bronx High who lives in Jamaica. “It took my teacher a good five minutes to convince me that I had actually won. I was grinning all day.”
Dama did her research in a laboratory at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital in Glen Oaks on a group of enzymes called TIMP-4 that prevent the destruction of cartilage. She and her mentors hoped to shed light on the enzymes’ role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis, but the results of their experiments came out opposite to what they expected.
“There were no definitive results,” said Dama. “Not all research is cut and dry.”
Most Intel applicants begin researching their science project during their sophomore or junior years in high school. With guidance from a teacher, they do research over the Internet and at libraries on a specific topic that they are interested in.
Once they have honed in on a particular topic, students contact researchers at local institutions by phone or e-mail to ask if they would be willing to serve as their mentor. After they have found their mentor, students begin working on a specific project, usually at the mentor’s institution.
“I was very excited because I put a lot of time into doing research inside and outside of school,” said Michelle Bubnik, 17, a senior at St. Francis Prep who lives in Bayside.
Bubnik studied different subclasses of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder under the guidance of Dr. Jeffrey Halperin at Queens College. She became interested in ADHD because her older brother, who has Down’s Syndrome, used to be hyperactive.
“I think with more study we could eventually determine which pre-schoolers are going to continue with ADHD behaviors and which aren’t,” said Bubnik. “What my study directly implies is that there are differences in severity between the different subtypes.”
Bubnik said she plans on getting a Ph.D. in neuropsychology.
Marlena Laszkowska, 17, the other Intel semifinalist at St. Francis Prep, traveled by train to the New York University School of Medicine in Manhattan during her sophomore, junior and senior years to do research on a protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease.
“It was very time-consuming and also it got frustrating when experiments didn’t work and several parts had to be repeated over and over again,” said Laszkowska, who lives in Middle Village. “I think I want to stay in science but probably more along the lines of being a physician or pathologist.”
While Laszkowska has already been accepted at Harvard, where her sister, a former Intel semifinalist, is a freshman, most other semifinalists were still waiting to hear if they had been accepted to the colleges of their choice.
Brad Stronger, 17, a Little Neck resident who attends Stuyvesant, hoped to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after programming a computer to use artificial intelligence to attempt to read words out of complicated visual images.
Sue Brustein, the assistant principal in charge of science at Townsend Harris said she is very proud of the outstanding work that her student Paulina Trzcinka, a chosen semifinalist, has done, but she was surprised by the lack of semifinalists from Queens this year compared to other years.
“To be the only one in the school was a big honor,” said Trzcinka, 17, of Rego Park, who did her research on human decision making. “I’m actually ecstatic because I did not expect it.”
Other semifinalists from Queens were Stuyvesant students Philip Chan of Flushing; Philip Fogel of Hollis Hills; Naazia Husain of Neponsit; Erin Jou of Bayside; Xiru Li of Forest Hills; Alice Tao of Forest Hills; and Jimmy Zhu of Douglaston; and Bronx High students JunMei Hu of Rego Park; Lenong Ma of Flushing; and Jessica Yu of Bayside.
The TimesLedger staff contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.