By Adam Pincus
But to Nicole Elizabeth Lam of Sunnyside, the microscopic brains in the little fly held secrets to recognizing how they anticipate the arrival of light each day.Lam, 17, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science, was one of 13 semifinalists from Queens and 300 nationwide among the 1,558 entrants in the Intel Science Talent Search, the most prestigious pre-college contest in the country. Intel became the sponsor of the 65-year-old competition in 1998, taking it over from Westinghouse Electric Corporation.A second student from Bronx Science, Yi Cui, 18, of Floral Park, was recognized for work in skimming.Lam explained her research in a phone interview Tuesday, saying she wanted to determine which brain cells controlled the sleep/wake cycles in the fruit fly.”It was a lot of hard work,” she said, but she added “I think the experience was positive.”Fruit fly “activity level would increase right before the time the lights would go on,” she said, indicating something in the fly's brain was telling it that it was the right time to begin to move about. These flies, she figured, were not simply reacting to a light being switched on.In order to study the brain cells, or neurons, some of the insects were killed and their brain matter isolated and inspected under a microscope. She was able to identify which neurons were responsible for recognizing the sleep/wake cycles because a green fluorescent protein introduced to the fly's brain would stick to the active cells.She did the research at New York University full time over the past two summers and one day a week while attending Bronx Science during the school year, she said. She worked alongside a post- doctoral candidate at the university who was conducting similar research.Lam wrote a 20-page paper, which she submitted to the Intel competition.She said her parents took great pleasure in her achievement.”They are super proud of me,” she said. “The hard work that she put into my education paid off,” Lam said of her mother.Her father, Kwok Hung Lam, was born in Hong Kong, while her mother, Noreen Chin, was born in Myanmar. Both came to the United States when they were children. They are now owners of a clothing manufacturing company in Brooklyn.Despite Lam's early success in research, she is considering a career in orthodontics, though that could change depending on which of the nine colleges she has applied to accepts her.Two 17-year-old St. Francis Prep seniors – Michelle Iocolano and Sylviane Boddy- were named semifinalists for projects on battling degenerative diseases.Four students from Townsend Harris High School in Flushing took honors as Intel semi-finalists for their scientific projects.Anjie Zheng, 17, for studies on the Oriental Weatherfish; Sangsoo Kim, 17, of Fresh Meadows, for research on the regulation of human cancer cells.Five students from Queens enrolled at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan were selected as well. The semi-finalists from the school were Xiaotian Chen, 18, of Jamaica Estates; Byron Joseph Cheung, 17, of Fresh Meadows; Christine Flora Lai, 17, of Bayside; Longyin Li, 17 of Rego Park; and Steve Teng, 17, of Rego Park.Representatives from Stuyvesant did not return calls for additional information.Intel awards $1,000 to each of the 300 semifinalists and another $1,000 to their schools, a company spokeswoman said.The 2006 semifinalists were selected from entrants representing 486 high schools in 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and an overseas school, she said.