4 LI students named Intel national finalists

Pictured left to right: Preeti Kakani, 17, of

Pictured left to right: Preeti Kakani, 17, of Jericho High School, Aron Coraor, 17, of Huntington High School, Kaitlyn Shin, 17, of Jericho High School, and John Clarke, 17, of Syosset are among 40 national finalists in this year's Intel Science Talent Search, officials announced Wednesday. (Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan; Handout)

Jericho High School senior Kaitlyn Shin has been interested in space since she was 9 years old. Back then, she said, she would ask her father, "Are there other things in the night sky besides the stars, Dad?"

Shin is one of four Long Island students -- two are from Jericho -- who will move on to the final round of the highly competitive Intel Science Talent Search.

She will be joined by her Jericho classmate Preeti Kakani, Aron Coraor of Huntington High School, and John Clarke of Syosset, who attends Regis High School in Manhattan. All are 17.

With 36 other national finalists named Wednesday, they will compete in March in Washington, D.C., for a $100,000 grand prize as well as awards to the runners-up totaling more than $500,000.

This year's finalists hail from 33 schools in 14 states and their research spans a range of topics, including biochemistry, physics and space science.

Shin focused on microscopic black holes, with the bulk of her work taking place at Columbia University. Though she is passionate about her project, she doesn't know exactly what she will aim to do professionally.

"I'm keeping an open mind, but I can't imagine a Kaitlyn without science," she said.

John Clarke ran computer simulations of the image that a space-based X-ray telescope could derive from observing Jupiter's auroras -- which unlike the Aurora Borealis, or "Northern Lights," are invisible to the naked eye.

His research found that the telescope, called NuSTAR, would be able to discern the auroras from other background sources, allowing scientists to learn more about Jupiter's magnetic field and the particles within it.

Such research, he said, will help in understanding more about the Earth's magnetic field, which will be helpful as an increasing number of satellites are deployed. "It's important to understand the nature of matter, which will help us better understand our environment and solar system."

Like the other finalists, Clarke was elated to receive a call from Intel about his selection.

"I was very surprised," he said. "I really didn't expect it."

Coraor spent two years studying the formation of the surface of the moon, with most of his research conducted at Stony Brook University.

He, too, is overjoyed not only about his status, but about the opportunity to travel to the finals competition in March. The trip to Washington, he said, will allow him to meet "a lot of other scientifically minded students and well-respected scientists."

While the others focused their attention on the skies, Kakani's neurobiology work, conducted on mice at Yale University, could have implications for patients seeking relief from myriad diseases here on planet Earth.

"I was able to identify several genes that might serve as potential targets for treatments for neurological disease that have been linked to abnormal brain activity, including autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy and amblyopia, or lazy eye," she said.

Fifty of New York's 96 semifinalists attended Long Island schools. Jericho High School's eight semifinalists were the highest number at any school in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Twenty-two of this year's semifinalists were mentored at Stony Brook. Three finalists from California did research work for their Intel projects at Stony Brook in the Simons Summer High School Research program last summer.

"I salute the faculty and graduate students who give of their time and talent to welcome these young researchers into their lab, inspiring them to pursue careers in science," said Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Stony Brook's president.

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