Brentwood High School seniors Roberto and Ricardo Lopez are a lot alike: co-captains of the swim team, with plans to attend the same college, and recently named semifinalists in one of the nation’s most prestigious competitions, the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022.
They're also identical twins, and will learn Thursday — along with 47 other semifinalists from schools across Long Island — if they made it to the finals. If one makes it and the other doesn’t, they said that will be OK.
What to know
Identical twins Ricardo and Roberto Lopez, seniors at Brentwood High School, were among 49 Long Island students named semifinalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022 competition.
There are no other twins in this year’s scholars class, event organizers said. There were twin finalists in the 1970s: Cecilia and Martin Lo.
The 17-year-olds were among the hundreds of high school seniors honored nationally and internationally, according to Washington, D.C.-based Society for Science, which runs the country's oldest and most well-known science contest.
On Thursday, 40 of the 300 semifinalists will be selected as finalists and granted a trip to Washington, D.C., where they will compete March 10-16 for $1.8 million in prize money.
"We are just glad that we both got recognized," Ricardo said. "If he wins, I will feel good because we both worked hard, and you are glad to see someone you worked with succeed."
The finalists — 40 will be chosen, from 300 semifinalists throughout the country and world — receive a trip to Washington, D.C., March 10-16, to compete for part of the $1.8 million in prize money.
Roberto and Ricardo, 17-year-olds and the only twins in the competition, did separate research projects connected to the salt marsh at Sunken Meadow State Park on the North Shore. Both are concerned about environmental issues and hope their research can lead to mitigating global warming.
"We went in all weather. Whatever the day gave us, we went," Roberto said. "The most challenging part was high tide and low tide. We would be in the salt marsh in the ground knees deep into the native plant species, and the next thing you know we would be getting flooded by high tide."
Ricardo’s project, "Evaluating Salt Marsh Restoration at Sunken Meadow: Analysis of Sediment Loss and Accretion," examined the differences between restored salt marshes and native salt marshes, finding that those restored lost soil or degraded more than the native marsh. Finding a fertilizer that can work effectively without harming the marsh could lead to its restoration, Ricardo said.
Roberto’s project, "Evaluating Phragmites australis wrack accumulation in a Long Island salt marsh ecosystem and assessing its effect on carbon sequestration, the nitrogen cycle, and sediment biota," used drones to evaluate the marsh, focusing on what area needs the most attention and care.
Another part of Roberto's project examined what happens when phragmites — an invasive plant species found in the salt marsh — die and shed their leaves, while contributing to the death of native vegetation.
Georgetown their first college choice
The brothers said there isn't much that they do separately. They volunteered with a program to bring science to younger students. They're part of a science podcast at their high school. And although Georgetown University is their first choice, they said they would consider any college that admits them both. Both would like to major in biology and eventually go into medicine.
Among the top students at their school, Roberto has a 104.56 grade-point average and Ricardo a 102.25. The twins, who have three younger brothers, ages 7, 4 and six months, will be the first in their family to go to college.
"We do all activities together. It is literally all the same. I can't tell you that he does something that I don’t do," Ricardo said.
They did their research through a relationship the science program at Brentwood High has with Stony Brook University, the Suffolk County Department of Labor and New York State Parks, said their teacher and mentor, Rebecca Grella. While many semifinalists across Long Island travel to labs or major universities to advance their studies, "Dr. Grella brought the lab to our classroom and exposed us to new technologies," Ricardo said.
Grella, along with Dianna Padilla, a Stony Brook professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, designed a lab at the high school where students can use advanced equipment under the eyes of a mentor to complete their projects.
In Brentwood, Long Island's largest district with nearly 19,000 students and also one of its most economically disadvantaged, Grella has worked to improve access for students in scientific research from underrepresented minority communities. The district, which is about 86% Hispanic/Latino, has had Regeneron semifinalists in the past, and had a finalist — Ahmad Perez — in 2019.
"I have worked with lots of students and have struggled though a lot of these reports over the years. I really can say that these two boys really do produce exceptional research," Padilla said. "Their work really is fundamentally important to protecting our shorelines, especially here on Long Island."
Brentwood High students serve as paid interns through a partnership with the county's Department of Labor to conduct environmental analysis at the park. Both brothers participated. "They have what it takes to get through any challenge in life," Grella said.
Regeneron awards semifinalists, as well as their schools, $2,000 each. There were 39 scholars from Nassau and 10 from Suffolk named on Jan. 6, with projects covering a variety of topics, including health, the environment, and social and behavioral studies.
Long Island had 41 semifinalists in 2021. Two of those students, Jericho High's Justin Shen, and Lucy Zha, of The Wheatley School in the East Williston district, made the finals. Each received $25,000.
The nation's oldest and most well-known science contest is run by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Society for Science. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., based in Tarrytown, has funded the contest since 2016.