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Eight LI students named Siemens competition regional finalists

Long Island's regional finalists in the prestigious national

Long Island's regional finalists in the prestigious national Siemens science research competition. From top left Arthur Chen, Lee Blackburn, Bill Crugnola, Katie Mazalkova, Niyati Desai, Justin Lish, Jay Zussman, Russell Charnoff.

Eight Long Island high school students are regional finalists in the prestigious Siemens science research competition for projects as varied as finding a way to combat cardiovascular disease to enhancing an alternative fuel source.

They are among 97 regional finalists nationwide who will advance to the next round of the 2014 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, vying for a spot in the national finals in December that features two $100,000 grand-prize scholarships -- one given to an individual and one to a team.

The regional finalists include students from Great Neck South High School, Jericho High School, Valley Stream Central High School and Ward Melville High School in East Setauket. In addition, two students from Lawrence High School and two from Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway -- both schools located in Cedarhurst -- were named.

Ward Melville senior Niyati Desai, 17, said a Siemens representative phoned her Saturday with the news.

"I wasn't expecting to hear from them," she said. "I got nervous and they informed me. It was a great surprise."

Desai's project examined graphene-ferroelectric hybrid devices, which could be a viable alternative to the silicon-based technology used in everything from radios to computers.

She was among a record 4,428 students who registered for this year's competition, with 1,784 projects submitted for consideration -- a 12 percent increase over the number of projects submitted last year, organizers said. This year is the 15th anniversary of the competition.

There are 17 regional finalists in New York State.

Naomi Lippman, principal of the Hebrew Academy, said this is the first time she can recall the school having two regional finalists. Junior Justin Lish, 16, and senior Russell Charnoff, 17, won the recognition.

"We are thrilled for the students, but we also understand that this is a reflection of a tremendous amount of hard work," Lippman said.

The Siemens Competition, administered by Discovery Education, awards one $3,000 prize to an individual and one $6,000 prize to a team at each regional competition. For Long Island's finalists, the next stop is Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on Nov. 21-22.

Jericho High School senior Bill Crugnola, 17, and Katie Mazalkova, 17, a senior at Valley Stream Central High School, worked as partners in a Molloy College lab on their project about atherosclerosis. The two were in the college's high school internship program, in the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Studies, over the summer.

Crugnola and Mazalkova pored over scientific journals and spent hours in the lab as they examined a particular line of stem cells in human blood vessels that promote formation of the disease, which involves the buildup of fatty plaque in blood vessels, restricting blood flow.

They hope the work can lead to real-world applications.

Someone could "move the science forward and hopefully create an effective, superior treatment to atherosclerosis," Crugnola said.

Lawrence High School juniors Lee Blackburn and Arthur Chen, both 16, worked with Lish, of the Hebrew Academy. They were looking at a way to enhance hydrogen fuel-cell performance.

Working together was a challenge at times.

"There were times when there were arguments, but then there were times where we worked together harmoniously," Blackburn said.

Great Neck South High School senior Jay Zussman, 17, also was a regional finalist.

Winners at the regional events advance to the national finals at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., scheduled Dec. 5-9.

A total of $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including the two top $100,000 prizes.

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