LI Teens Win Top Science Prize / Girls get $100,000 in national contest

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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

timing.

"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

screen.

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

adviser.

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.

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