Intel semifinalists on projects, education

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Fifty-three students from Long Island schools were named semifinalists in this year's prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition. Newsday asked several of the semifinalists to explain their projects and offer their thoughts about education. Here's a closer look.

Sanjula SinghalWard Melville High School,

East Setauket

Project title: Novel technology for brand protection and anti-counterfeiting measures using fluorophore and DNA

Her project:

Singhal believes her research project could save the reputations of countless companies.

She proposed using DNA and fluorophore, a compound that fluoresces under ultraviolet lights, to create unique labels that bind to various materials. These markers would act as a "rapid" anti-counterfeiting method using the fluorophore, she said, and offer a further confirmation using DNA analysis.

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Singal worked on the project at Applied DNA Sciences in Stony Brook starting last spring, under the guidance of Karim Berrada, who is the company's director of DNA formulations.

"The next phase in improving this technology is to create a commercially viable product, which can reduce issues relating to counterfeiting in the global market," said Singhal, 17.

Her take on education:

Singhal largely credits her interest in science to her school's InSTAR science research program, which she said prepares students for science competitions such as Intel and Toshiba's ExploraVision, among others. Her favorite teacher is Advanced Placement literature teacher Terri Etheridge, who she said makes lessons interesting while still covering the required material.

"Ms. Etheridge takes us through the material, adding in some humor, and allows us to discuss the material and its significance -- so the students are able to make their conclusions, then expand on those by listening and responding to the conclusions of others," she said.

One aspect of education that today's schools should improve upon, Singhal said, is encouraging students to get more outside exposure in fields in which they are interested. In 2011, she interned at Curefab, a biomedical company in Germany, that allowed her to see science as it is applied in a real-world setting.

Through such opportunities, Singhal said, "students would be better prepared for future jobs and would have an opportunity to learn how to communicate with other people in a professional setting."

Robert TannenbaumHalf Hollow Hills High

School East, Dix Hills

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Project title: Enhancement of graphene-based supercapacitor devices in both symmetric and asymmetric electrochemical cell environments

His project:

The goal of Tannenbaum's project was to create a more effective battery-like device that could not only be more effective than current-day batteries, but highly flexible. He developed a supercapacitor, a tool offering high electrical capacitance in a small package, using spongelike graphene that itself could physically fold in an effort to increase convenience.

"My phone always died, so I've always wanted to look into energy research," said Tannenbaum, 17. Of his project's findings, he said: "I was able to create a cell to light an LED [light-emitting diode] bulb to show that it's able to hold a charge."

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His take on education:

Tannenbaum credits his school's research program director, Michael Lake, for pushing pupils to understand their projects inside and out before presentations in competitions.

He also believes that schools should encourage more participation in science research.

"If schools don't have one, they should definitely look into getting one," Tannenbaum said of research programs. "It opens students up to opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise. Before getting involved in ours, I knew very little of the Intel and Siemens competitions."

Kavita JainSmithtown High

School West

Project title: Demonstrating relationships between the morphology of the trigeminal system and feeding performance in the American alligator: A new tool for understanding feeding evolution

Her project:

Jain studied what she calls one of the most important traits in vertebrates: feeding behavior.

Her project focused on alligators, which are part of a reptile group that includes extinct dinosaurs called archosaurs, and presented a new way to evaluate the feeding performance for these organisms.

To do this, she used correlations between histological characteristics of the skull, the vertebrate cranial nerve, and body characteristics such as body size, bite force and jaw adductor muscles.

"To find this method, I used computer rendering techniques with CT scans and gross dissections of American alligator specimens," said Jain, 17.

Her take on education:

Jain said Smithtown West research teacher Joanne Figueiredo has provided her with the utmost advice and constructive criticism, whether the topic is building a cardboard oven or studying archosaur evolution.

"From the first day I met her, she has shown unprecedented enthusiasm and support for any project I tackle," she said. "Her passion to help anyone, a student or the community, is exemplary and has taught me always to appreciate what I have, even in hardship."

When it comes to academic success, Jain said it is important for pupils to push themselves.

"I think that by taking the toughest classes my school offers, I have been able to work to my potential and have realized that I can do so much more," she said. "As the years in high school went on, I knew that even if I took more classes, harder classes, I would be able to succeed if I tried my best."

Jacob WaxHarborfields High School,

Greenlawn

Project title: Investigating the sensitivity and specificity of the potentiometric biosensor mechanism through bacteria and bacterial spore cross-testing

His project:

Wax's work focused upon improving testing capabilities of biosensors by cross-testing with different bacteria and bacterial spores, examining whether the device could potentially differentiate between the two.

Research on the potentiometric biosensor has been taking place for a number of years at Stony Brook University, Wax said, and his work builds upon that.

"Ultimately, we were able to conclude that the biosensor can indeed detect the presence of a certain bacteria in a solution," said Wax, 17. "We also determined that the bacteria could specifically differentiate between two similarly shaped bacteria/bacterial spores."

His take on education:

Wax said he can't highlight a favorite teacher at Harborfields: All of them have been accessible and knowledgeable, and every class has offered him new and unique challenges.

"I would certainly characterize myself as a math and science kid, but I have learned so much from classes outside of math and science -- outside of my comfort zone," he said. "If anything, I believe my comfort zone has widened to encompass every area I have studied."

He also credits the school's director of research, Michael Pinto, who he said helped him throughout the Intel process. He spoke of the importance of better-funded research programs at schools.

"I believe much more funding needs to go toward science research," Wax said. "Our country needs scientists and engineers to keep up with today's fast-paced world. Without research opportunities for our country's younger generations, we will fall behind."

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