2011 Intel semifinalists: Sarah Pak from Roslyn High School /...

2011 Intel semifinalists: Sarah Pak from Roslyn High School / David Kaufman of Great Neck North High School / Caroline Trezza from Roslyn High School

Fifty-seven Long Island teens captured $1,000 semifinalist prizes in the nation's oldest student science contest Wednesday, but the classroom celebrations had to wait.

In the wake of a snowstorm that shuttered schools, winners in the Intel Science Talent Search stayed home like other students - many helping with family chores.

Among districts planning to celebrate when they reopen Thursday are Brentwood and Mineola, both recipients of their first semifinalist awards since the contest's rules changed in 1999. Under those rules, winners' schools receive matching $1,000 prizes.

Wednesday, semifinalist Nathan Akhavan, 17, of Plainview, had just helped his father and a brother shovel a 250-foot driveway, when a caller announced that he was officially ranked among the "best and brightest young scientific minds in America." Still, Akhavan wasn't ruffled by the need to clear snow.

"If I didn't have that, I'd probably be studying for a midterm right now," he said.

Akhavan is a senior at Rambam Mesivta, a 180-student Orthodox Jewish boys' school in Lawrence with a record of science awards. For his research project, Akhavan developed a super-efficient solar energy cell in a Stony Brook University lab, mixing graphene and graphene oxide with the cell's own polymer structure.

Local school districts with the largest numbers of winners include Three Village with six; Great Neck and Jericho with five apiece; Plainview-Old Bethpage and Syosset with four apiece; and Brentwood, Herricks, Port Washington and Roslyn, each with three.

Allyson Weseley, who is Roslyn's secondary research coordinator, sees an upside in Wednesday's snowstorm, which allowed winners to share their initial joy with family members rather than classmates. When contest results are announced at school, Weseley notes, winners' happiness must be balanced with the disappointment of other contest entrants who worked equally hard on projects.

"I have three semifinalists, and that's fantastic," said Weseley. "But I have 10 other fantastic kids with wonderful projects, and it's hard for them."

The region's 57 prizes are the smallest number awarded here since 1997, when the contest was known as the Westinghouse, in honor of a former corporate sponsor. The competition is now funded by Intel Corp., a California-based maker of computer chips.

Contest officials say the Island's dwindling share of prizes probably reflects the improved quality of research projects submitted by 12th-graders in other parts of the country. A prime example is California, which had 41 semifinalists this year, compared with 28 last year. Even so, the Island's share this year still represents nearly one-fifth of the 300 total semifinalists nationwide. The number of semifinalists from Long Island peaked at 89 in 2003 and was down to 61 last year.

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