Five of Long Island's teenage science whizzes last night got the news they'd hoped for: They are national finalists in the prestigious Intel science contest, with research projects ranging from development of fire-resistant plastics to removal of radioactive wastes from water.
The finalists, among 40 nationwide, are:
Juliana Coraor, 17, of Huntington High School; Rachel Davis, 18, of Smithtown High School East; Savina Kim, 17, of Commack High School; Neil Mehta, 17, of Jericho High School; and Anna Sato, 17, of Ward Melville High School in the Three Village district.
They will compete in mid-March in Washington, D.C., for top scholarships, including a $100,000 first prize. Finalists each receive at least $7,500 in addition to $1,000 semifinalist grants won earlier this month.
Long Island had 61 semifinalists in this year's Intel Science Talent Search, including Samantha Garvey, 18, a homeless Brentwood High School senior who drew national headlines for her plucky persistence.
The region's finalists, notified of their wins Tuesday night, took a few minutes to celebrate, though many are coping with midterm exams and workloads that would stagger many adults.
"It was a shock -- I just broke into tears," said Davis, who got a call from Intel officials as she was helping preside at a meeting of her school's business club.
Davis immediately called the school's research coordinator, Maria Zeitlin-Trinkle, who rushed to the school to offer congratulations. "I'm just starting to breathe again," Zeitlin-Trinkle said later.
Davis' research, conducted largely at Stony Brook University, revolved around development of a new type of plastic polymer that is flame-retardant and biodegradable. The project was inspired by Davis' personal experience; her own home burned down five years ago.
Coraor also chose Stony Brook for her research into materials with special electrical properties. Dividing her time between high school and the university often has required train commutes, along with 20-minute walks between train station and school.
"She works so hard day and night . . . .I never had a doubt about success for Juli," said Lori Kenny, Huntington's research coordinator and one of Coraor's teachers.