Two students from Long Island win top Intel awards

(L-R) John Clarke, 17, of Syosset, who attends (L-R) John Clarke, 17, of Syosset, who attends Regis High School in Manhattan, earned ninth place, winning a $20,000 scholarship for his research of X-ray emissions from the planet Jupiter, a gas giant that harnesses a powerful magnetic field. Huntington High School senior Aron Coraor, 17, took sixth place, which comes with a $25,000 scholarship, for studying the formation of the surface of the moon. Photo Credit: Evelyn Hockstein

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Two high school seniors from Long Island are among the top 10 winners named Tuesday night in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition, chosen from among 40 finalists across the country competing in Washington, D.C.

Huntington High School senior Aron Coraor, 17, took sixth place, which comes with a $25,000 scholarship, for studying the formation of the surface of the moon.

John Clarke, 17, of Syosset, who attends Regis High School in Manhattan, earned ninth place, winning a $20,000 scholarship for his research of X-ray emissions from the planet Jupiter, a gas giant that harnesses a powerful magnetic field.

Coraor was thrilled by the experience of being in the nation's capital with other finalists.

"It's amazing," he said after walking off a stage filled with blue and white balloons. Coraor, who conducted much of his research at Stony Brook University said other students had told him they thought he would make the Top Ten, but he didn't believe it could happen since so many other candidates had such stellar projects. "It's incredibly surprising."

Clarke said he was "absolutely honored" and called being in the top 10 "something extraordinary and miraculous."

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"I really did not expect this at all," he said as students congratulated each other with hugs offstage. "If you had given [a prize] to any one of the finalists, it would not have been surprising," he said, clutching his $20,000 award certificate.

Taking the top prize was Eric S. Chen, 17, of San Diego, who won $100,000 from the Intel Foundation for his research of potential new drugs to treat influenza.

This year's finalists, competing for a total of $630,000 in awards, hailed from 33 schools in 14 states and their research spanned a range of topics, including biochemistry, physics and space science. Finalists this week toured Washington and met President Barack Obama.

"It's been absolutely excellent to be surrounded by so many people who share some of my own interests," Clarke said of the experience. "It's rare that you get so many people interested in the same things at the same times. . . . People here know so much. You come here thinking you're the science whiz, but they really show you how great STEM education is elsewhere in the country."

This is the first time since 2011 that students from Long Island have been in the top 10, and Coraor and Clarke were the only finalists from New York State to place among the winners. Until 2012, Long Island students had placed every year since 1994, except for 2005.

Coraor's entry in the competition was titled "Pressure Dependent Azeotropic Melting Relations in the Mg2SiO4-Fe2SiO4-NaAlSi3O8-CaAl2Si2O8 System: a Critical Role in Lunar Highlands Formation?"

He began working with Donald H. Lindsley, distinguished professor emeritus in geosciences at Stony Brook, in the summer of 2012.

"One of Aron's strengths is that he recognizes no boundaries in science," Lindsley said. "Physics, chemistry and geology are seamless in his view, and he's very good in seeing connections among them."

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Coraor is planning a career as a professor of chemistry or chemical engineering.

While his project sounds like it is rooted in geology, "fundamentally it was a chemistry project," he said, as he read advanced physical chemistry texts to understand how certain lunar rocks must have formed.

Clarke's project was titled "High-Energy X-ray Emission in the Jovian Magnetosphere: A Feasibility Study for the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NUSTAR)." He 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.

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Long Island had two other finalists -- Jericho High School seniors Kaitlyn Shin and Preeti Kakani. Both are 17.

Shin focused on microscopic black holes, with the bulk of her work taking place at Columbia University. She said her time in Washington as a finalist has been "fantastic, like a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

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.

Kakani said her time in Washington has been "such a surreal experience."

"I've met some of the smartest kinds I've ever met in my life," she said. "Each person has their own strengths, but it's so fun to have conversations with them about all kinds of science. Everybody loves learning about other people's research.

"It's a really supportive environment, and it's a really enriching environment," she said. "I think the friends I made here will be my friends for a very, very long time."

With Susan Milligan

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