Meghana Reddy of Syosset High School has just advanced a step in her quest to become a scientist and an emergency room doctor.
Reddy, 17, a junior, was one of 12 students to receive the Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History, which received 750 science-based research essays from students at top science middle and high school programs nationwide.
Last summer, Reddy worked alongside Stony Brook University researchers who examined 540 hard clam tissues to investigate how Quahog Parasite Unknown infects hard clams, whose populations have drastically declined on Long Island and in New England.
"It was a lot of extractions and analysis of data," said Reddy, whose 20-page research paper clinched a $2,500 award that will go straight into her college savings.
Reddy said working alongside scientists and researchers at Stony Brook gave her "a lot of advanced technical lab and analysis skills."
Her Stony Brook University supervisor, professor Bassem Allam, a shellfish pathologist, said, "This is a great experience for students like Meghana who get exposure to science beyond the textbook. It is a great way to learn the significance of science in everyday life."
Reddy said the research showed "temperatures play a huge role in the infection of these clams. Results showed that temperatures of 27 Celsius for a duration of two hours caused a greater decrease in the parasite."
Reddy's "experiment was well designed and executed and statistically sound," said Mark Siddall, a judge and curator at the museum's division of invertebrate zoology. "The young investigator was appropriate and thoughtful."
Christine Economos, senior administrator of the Young Naturalist Award program, said: "What stood out in Meghana's paper was its personal tone and her dedication to the actual research."
All the research papers in the competition are read by museum scientists, expert science writers, educators and natural conservation experts, she said.
Finalist papers "go through a peer and curatorial review by our museum's top scientists," Economos said.
Reddy said winning the prize "gives me encouragement to pursue research. It is definitely motivational. . . . As long as I can remember, science and biology were my favorite subjects. My ninth-grade biology teacher helped increase my interest. It's what I know best."
"I just basically get doctors or nurses what they need. I get blankets for patients and bring wheelchairs to patients," Reddy said. She is learning that in health care, "one has to be compassionate and understanding and have a lot of patience for the patient."