While they don't compete on Saturdays, student science
whizzes Shira Billet and Dora Sosnowik manage quite well against teenage rivals
on other days of the week.
Yesterday, the two seniors from Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in
Hewlett Bay Park emerged with the top team prize of $100,000 in the Siemens
Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition. Results of the national contest
were announced at a Washington, D.C., news conference.
Billet and Sosnowik are Orthodox Jews who observe the Saturday Sabbath as a
day of prayer and relaxation. So when the two teammates got word earlier this
fall that they were regional finalists in the science contest, their initial
elation faded upon realizing there might be problems with the competition's
"It took us about 20 minutes to realize it was on a Saturday, and there was
no way around that," said Billet, 17, who lives in Woodmere. Sosnowik is 16
and lives in Lawrence.
A way was found, however. After several days of negotiations, contest
managers agreed to let the two teens present their research findings to judges
on a Friday, rather than a Saturday.
To win their scholarship prize, which they will split, the two girls
developed a method of measuring the consistency of ultra-thin lubricants. Their
findings have many potential applications in the fields of micro-electronics
and medical therapy, including the functioning of artificial joints for
arthritis patients. Billet and Sosnowik won top team honors at a regional meet
Nov. 3-5 in Boston, then went on to win again in Washington.
Another Long Island team, Winston Wang and Alexander Vinberg of Manhasset
High School, won a sixth-place prize of $10,000 for research identifying blood
cells that help prevent hemorrhaging. The top individual prize of $100,000 went
to a Grand Junction, Colo., student, Ryan Patterson, who designed a glove-like
electronic tool that translates sign language into characters on a computer
The latest results from the contest, which was established three years
ago, served as yet another reminder of the dominance of Long Island students in
various research competitions.
One-fifth of the 253 semifinalists in the competition were from Long
Island. Results also were welcome news at the 300-student Abraham school, which
set up its summer research program just two years ago.
"I have to keep pinching myself to make sure this isn't a dream," said
Rebecca Isseroff, a chemistry teacher who serves as the school's research
Realizing that dream required unusual dedication. The Abraham school
operates on a daily 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. schedule, combining academic and
religious studies. Billet and Sosnowik also edit the school yearbook, and their
science research often kept them working until midnight.
Then there was the issue of competing on the Sabbath. Contest
administrators initially said they couldn't make exceptions because they had
told a football player last year that he had to choose between participating in
the science contest and playing a Saturday game.
That didn't satisfy Miriam Rafailovich, an engineering professor at SUNY
Stony Brook, who had supported the girls' research. Rafailovich argued
successfully that the two situations weren't analogous.
"Your religion isn't a football game," said the professor, who is director
of a Stony Brook center specializing in polymer research.