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John F. Kennedy has two Regeneron finalists; Manhasset, North Shore one each

Two finalists of the national Regeneron Science Talent Search competition, from John F. Kennedy High School in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, spoke Wednesday about their projects. They are among four high school seniors in Nassau County who are finalists. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Four Nassau County high school seniors in three public school districts were named finalists Wednesday in the national Regeneron Science Talent Search competition, including one student who studied the impact ribbed mussels have on salt marshes and another who focused on the intensity and influence of North Atlantic hurricanes.

John F. Kennedy High School in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District has two finalists: Andrew Brinton and Katherine St George. The other finalists are Kyra McCreery of North Shore High and Ella Wesson of Manhasset High.

They are among 40 finalists nationwide who each will receive $25,000 and travel to Washington, D.C., from March 5-11, where they will compete for more than $1.8 million in prizes. The top 10 awards will be announced at an awards ceremony at the National Building Museum on March 10. Prizes will range from $40,000 to $250,000.

Long Island's finalists researched a variety of topics, from the effects the ketogenic diet has on caffeine and related seizures to working with sound waves – a project engineered by Wesson. Scholars typically spend weeks or months in university laboratories, working closely with adult faculty.

Wesson examined the properties of sound waves for her project titled "Engineering One Layer of a Two-Dimensional Acoustic Band Gap Material and Reconstructing the Sound Pressure Field Using Acoustic Holography."

Wesson, 17, said she was in shock for most of the afternoon Wednesday. In her research conducted at New York University’s Center for Soft Matter Research Lab, she used holograms to look at sound pressure fields.

“Basically, I filled balloons with different gases and put sound through those gases to recreate what the sound might have looked like,” she said.

Wesson said she is interested in a career in public health, where she can combine science with the humanities. “I think this is a good steppingstone for that,” she said.

North Shore High School senior Kyra McCreery's project was titled "Associations between the slowdown in North Atlantic tropical-cyclone translation: Speed and intensifying storm precipitation."

McCreery used a statistical analysis on North Atlantic hurricanes from 1850 to 2016 and found that storms are slowing and becoming more destructive due to increasing precipitation. Her research also included mapping these storms. Her work, she said, shows both the social and societal importance of statistically modeling storms.

She has “definitely witnessed a number of these storms” in her lifetime, said McCreery, 17, of Sea Cliff. “I was certainly intrigued when I developed the idea for this project.”

She conducted her research at Columbia University and plans to major in the STEM field. Becoming a finalist was “such an honor,” she said. “I was really thrilled and surprised.”

 “I’m extremely proud,” North Shore High School research teacher Molly Mordechai said. “She is an incredible student — brilliant, very mature. I was very hopeful for this to happen to her,” Mordechai said. 

St George, 17, found in her research that caffeine can increase seizure susceptibility, but “the ketogenic diet can ameliorate and decrease seizure frequency and intensity,” which can help those who have epilepsy. She used fruit flies to conduct her study titled, "The Ketogenic Diet Ameliorates The Effects of Caffeine in Seizure Susceptible Drosophila melanogaster."

"It’s such an honor and amazing to know my research is seen in such high regard," St George said of being a finalist. St George, a Merrick resident and class valedictorian, plans to attend Columbia University.

Brinton, 17, found the relationship between ribbed mussels and cordgrasses on coastal salt marshes could be used to promote the expansion and growth of marshes, which play an integral role on the shore by absorbing storm surge. His work also found that by 2079, all marshes on Long Island would be gone due to the current rate of erosion, he said.

His inspiration stemmed from witnessing the destruction of his hometown of South Merrick caused by superstorm Sandy in 2012, when he was 10 years old. Flooding from the storm left many residents on Long Island’s South Shore displaced for months.

“I’m never going to forget sitting with my sister, crying my eyes out on the edge of the bed thinking the world was ending,” Brinton said.

The finalists were among 36 seniors from 20 Long Island districts named in the first round of the science competition, the nation's oldest and among the most prestigious. Each of those scholars received $2,000. Last year, there were five finalists from Long Island.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biopharmaceutical firm in Tarrytown, has funded the contest since 2016. The competition previously was funded by Intel Corp., a California-based maker of computer chips, and before that by Westinghouse Corp. The first competition was in 1942.

While funding sources have changed over the years, the contest has been run continuously by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit group based in Washington.

The projects and their summaries:

  • Andrew Brinton, John F. Kennedy High School, Project summary: Marsh Restoration: Ribbed Mussels (Geukensia demissa) as a Revival Mechanism to Rebuild the Coastal Salt Marshes of Long Island, New York.
  • Katherine St. George, John F. Kennedy High School, Project Summary: The Ketogenic Diet Ameliorates The Effects of Caffeine in Seizure Susceptible Drosophila melanogaster.
  • Kyra McCreery, North Shore High School Project Summary: Associations between the Slowdown in North Atlantic Tropical-Cyclone Translation Speed and Intensifying Storm Precipitation.
  • Ella Wesson, Manhasset High School: Project Summary: Engineering One Layer of a Two-Dimensional Acoustic Band Gap Material and Reconstructing the Sound Pressure Field Using Acoustic Holography.

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