Seven Long Island public school students were among 40 finalists chosen Thursday in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022 competition.
The seniors, five from Nassau County and two from Suffolk, were among Long Island's 49 Regeneron semifinalists named on Jan. 6. The finalists next will compete for more than $1.8 million in prizes in Washington, D.C., on March 10-16.
Long Island had its most finalists since 2003, when it had nine. Last year, the Island had two finalists.
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Seven Long Island public school students were among the 40 finalists picked Thursday in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022 competition.
They will compete March 10-16 in Washington, D.C., for $1.8 million in prizes.
The students — five from Nassau and two from Suffolk — were among the 49 from Long Island named semifinalists earlier this month.
Each finalist will receive at least $25,000, and the top 10 finishers get between $40,000 and $250,000. As a semifinalist, each student also receives $2,000, and $2,000 for their school.
Syosset High School and John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore led Long Island this year, each with two finalists.
Roberto Lopez, of Brentwood High School, who was a semifinalist with his identical twin Ricardo for separate projects, made the list. Others selected were: Ethan Chiu and Rohan Ghotra of Syosset High School; Christopher Luisi and Desiree Rigaud of JFK in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District; Amber Luo of Ward Melville High School in the Three Village district, and Hailee Youn of Roslyn High School.
"This is the most amazing thing that could have happened to us," said Veronica Ade, research facilitator for Syosset High School. "To have two students is an unbelievable feat … And they are two of the most outstanding students I have ever known. It brings all of the hard work — we have been working with them for four years — to a culmination."
Long Island students' projects covered a variety of topics, including studies on the Island’s salt marsh ecosystem, a deadly eye cancer, voting habits and a look at COVID-19-induced stress. Regeneron selections are based on research skills, academics, innovation and promise as scientists.
JFK High's Luisi did his research on the athleticism, metabolic rate and life span of fruit flies. He said he hopes to become an oncologist and had pledged to study science research after his grandmother died of breast cancer when he was 13.
"Before she passed away, I made her a promise," he said.
His classmate, Rigaud, whose project focused on COVID-19-induced economic stress, said finding out she was a finalist was a "surreal experience, and I am still in awe."
Brentwood's Roberto Lopez used drones to evaluate the salt marsh at Sunken Meadow State Park, focusing on which areas needed the most attention and care. Another part of his project examined what happens when phragmites — an invasive plant species — die and shed their leaves, while contributing to the death of native vegetation.
"As soon as I saw my face pop up on the Top 40 list, I jumped up and felt so incredible," Lopez said Thursday.
A post on the Syosset district's website stated that Chiu conducted his research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, studying uveal melanoma, the most common deadly eye cancer, and examined the effect of an antibiotic on the genes involved in tumor proliferation.
"I'm thinking about entering potentially medicine, potentially public health," Chiu said. "I really want to explore different policies and research in order to really … solve a lot of the issues I see in our world."
Ghotra worked on his project at the Simons Center for Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he studied computational modeling, in particular artificial intelligence, which is frequently employed for DNA analysis, according to the school district.
"When I found out, I celebrated. My cheeks were hurting from smiling so much," Ghotra said. "All my hard work was paying off."
At Roslyn High, Allyson Weseley, coordinator of secondary research, said Youn is the kind of student who goes "above and beyond what you ask and understands the possibilities of where you can go."
Youn's project examined how social norms impact voter turnout, and found that voters are influenced by what others are doing. If voters believe the turnout will be high, they are more likely to vote, her research found. She examined how holding a majority or minority opinion influences voter turnout.
After learning she made it, "At first, I couldn’t believe it," she said. She has a love of languages and speaks five: English, Korean, Spanish, Swahili and Arabic.
Ward Melville's Luo explored her passion for math and science in a six-week summer Research Science Institute hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work hopefully will enable researchers to obtain a clearer, global understanding of how diseased cells or the expression of particular proteins result in changes in protein synthesis, streamlining the development of targeted therapeutics and tools to treat any disease of interest, read a report on the school's website.
"I have always wanted to be like the Regeneron finalists," she said, and "having to come to this level of success, it makes you grateful for everything you have been given."
Each finalist will receive at least $25,000, and the top 10 finishers between $40,000 and $250,000. As semifinalists, students receive $2,000 each, and their schools the same amount.
The students were chosen from 1,804 applications received from 603 high schools across 46 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and eight countries. They are from 185 American and international high schools in 37 states, China, Switzerland and Singapore.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., based in Tarrytown, has funded the contest since 2016. While the sponsors have changed since the competition started in 1942, the contest has been run continuously by D.C.-based nonprofit Society for Science.