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3 LI students national finalists in Regeneron science contest


Students and school officials at Jericho High School gradually realized the extent of their success on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, as they saw the names of the 58 first-round winners from Nassau and Suffolk counties in the 2017 Regeneron Science Talent Search -- including nine students at their school -- exchanged congratulatory hugs and then returned to their computers to scan lists of winners in other parts of the country. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Three Long Island teenagers have won $25,000 finalist awards in the nation’s oldest high school science competition, through their expertise in laser technology, solar energy and burn therapy.

Nathaniel Lee and Archana Verma, both of Jericho High School, and Emily Peterson of Smithtown High School East in St. James were among 40 finalists named nationwide Tuesday in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the prestigious competition formerly sponsored by Westinghouse and Intel. All are 17 and in their senior year.

They now have the opportunity to go to the nation’s capital in March for the last round, where top individual awards will range from $40,000 to a $250,000 grand prize.

This year’s finalists, chosen from 300 semifinalist “scholars” named on Jan. 4, represent a wide range of personal interests.

Lee, for his research project, discovered a new application of low-cost ceramic composites that can be used in optical parametric oscillators, or OPO — an infrared laser source. In addition to his Regeneron participation, he is co-president of Jericho’s senior class, a varsity bowler, an Eagle Scout and co-founder of a start-up company known as Swish, which produces electronic apps for use on cellphones.

One of his early products, a free app used in measuring risk of cardiovascular diseases, has picked up 40,000 users, he said.

Describing the experience of designing software with young partners across the country, Lee said, “We got a ton of downloads! I really enjoy the thrill, the rush of staying up all night.”

Verma, a classmate, studied molecules similar to dye-sensitized solar cells, with the aim of making them more efficient in generating solar energy in tinted windows.

Her interest in the subject was sparked, she said, by John Cicale, a high school chemistry teacher, and nurtured by the district’s coordinator of science research, Serena McCalla.

“They were always willing to work with me, sometimes up to 10 o’clock at night,” Verma said.

Jericho High, with two finalists, was among only five schools in the country that produced multiple finalists this year. The Harker School, a private academy in California, had three finalists, while public schools in Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland each had two finalists.

Peterson, from Smithtown East, focused her attention on the plight of burn victims, an interest influenced by the experiences of a family member who is a volunteer firefighter.

She explored the effect of a specific protein, Lecithin-Retinol Acyl Transferase, on skin wounds, including burns and cancers. She was mentored in her research by Stony Brook University Professor Marcia Simon, director of that campus’ Living Skin Bank.

Peterson’s scientific interests also are reflected in volunteer work. She and a sister, Olivia, 14, established a charity in 2009 that has distributed several hundred teddy bears to children receiving treatment for burn wounds at Stony Brook Hospital.

“Through my visits to the hospital, I’ve seen the impact of the sort of research I’m doing,” she said. “I think that’s why I work so hard on it.”

This is the first year that Regeneron, a pharmaceutical firm based in Westchester County, has sponsored the contest. The competition was founded in 1942 and initially sponsored by Westinghouse, then by Intel, the California-based computer-chip company.

In Washington, finalists will meet with national political and science leaders, present their projects in a public exhibition and compete for the top awards, to be announced at a black-tie dinner on March 14.

George D. Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., was himself a finalist in the Westinghouse competition in 1976, as a student at Bronx High School of Science.

“These talented young scientists are already exploring life-changing solutions for the world’s problems,” Yancopoulos said in a statement Tuesday.

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