The path to becoming a Regeneron Science Talent Search semifinalist isn’t easy, but for this group of Long Island students it has been a rewarding experience. NewsdayTV’s Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca; Photo credit: Rebecca Grella

For her research on an invasive seaweed found on Long Island's shores, Brentwood High School senior Minnahil Tariq used a scanning electron microscope that can magnify up to 100,000 times.

The microscope is part of the laboratory on the second floor of Brentwood's Sonderling Center, where there are large tanks with different species of sea life, including seaweed, shellfish and large carp. The center is where Tariq conducted her research to become a semifinalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation's most prestigious scientific competition. 

Like at Brentwood, many Long Island public and private schools have allocated resources and staff to provide scientific research opportunities for students. Educators said research programs as such help prepare students for careers in science and technology, and competitions, including Regeneron.

In New York State, more than 44% of the Regeneron semifinalists this year are from Long Island schools. The Syosset district has an Island-leading six. Voters in that district approved a bond in 2018 with about $1.7 million to renovate science classrooms at the high school that included funding for an upgraded lab now staffed with educators specializing in scientific research. 

"I like to say that Long Islanders have invested deeply in their education system and they're getting the results that they're paying for," Syosset Superintendent Tom Rogers said. "When you see so many of these winners nationally coming from Long Island, it really is kind of a spectacular accomplishment for this system as a whole."

Long Island's 38 semifinalists will learn Tuesday if they will be among the 40 Regeneron finalists. Last year, Amber Luo of Ward Melville High School placed third in the overall competition, earning a $150,000 prize.

Earlier this month, 300 semifinalists known as “scholars” were named from national and international schools, each receiving $2,000 for their research work. The top 10 winners will be announced March 14 in Washington, D.C. The first-place prize is $250,000 — the largest prize available to a high school student in the United States.

Long Island students benefit from the access to world-class research institutions both locally and in New York City, where they can do field work, said Noelle Cutter, an associate professor at Molloy University who has served as a mentor to local students.

In addition, local schools have placed an emphasis on STEM over the past 10 years, including hiring staff specifically for the field, Cutter said.

“Every year I get more and more students who want to do summer research in the lab,” she said. “The faculty in the high schools are really encouraging this, even if they are not participating in Regeneron.”

Educators say research programs allow students to do college-level work in high school.

Becoming a Regeneron semifinalist takes a multiyear commitment from students, who work closely with mentors to guide their project. Mentors can be from outside the school system or educators in a district's program. While students often use outside labs for their research, some districts have created their own in-house labs. 

The upgraded Syosset lab opened in 2019, and most of the 18 seniors who submitted papers this year did their work there. The district receives a $2,000 award when its students are named scholars. That's $12,000, which research facilitator Veronica Ade will put back into the program.

Students at Syosset High School who are in the honors sciences as freshmen are enrolled in a first-year research class. In 10th grade, they launch their independent research. They submit a project to Regeneron by November in their senior year. Syosset's program launched in 1989.

Senior Vivek Turakhia, 17, researched a specific chemical that has the potential to induce Parkinson's disease in a living organism. The high school lab houses a model organism — a microscopic worm called C. elegans — that he used for this study.

"That was a very arduous process because I had to stay in the lab after school, sometimes to around five or six working on certain experiments," he said.

Often, work is done over the summer as students choose a topic to pursue and develop a scientific question to answer. 

Senior and semifinalist Tina Tianyi Zhang, 17, said she learned how to write resumes and cover letters in the class in addition to completing her project, which focused on linguistics.

"I feel like those things I wouldn't be able to learn in a normal class," she said.

In Brentwood, the Island's largest district in which nearly 90% of the 17,000 students are considered economically disadvantaged, the science research program has had success. 

The district has one semifinalist this year and two the previous year — twins Ricardo and Roberto Lopez, who are now studying at Yale University. Roberto had also gone to the finals. The district had a finalist in 2019: Ahmad Perez.

While many students in the competition work in outside labs at universities and other institutions, all of Brentwood's work is done in-house, and Rebecca Grella, research scientist and facilitator at the high school, serves as the students' mentor.

“This is not a classroom — this is a laboratory environment. What makes this program different is that we have brought the university-based lab to the high school,” Grella said. "We found that it was very difficult and really cost-prohibitive to get busing to university labs for our students over the summer months."

Through an agreement with Suffolk County, the students are paid for their field work in helping the county monitor water quality.

Grella has applied and received grants to cover resources and equipment. In October, the district received the scanning electron microscope from Hitachi Inspire the Next Program, which can typically cost more than six figures. It was used to identify diatoms on the algae in Tariq's project on the invasive species known as "Dasysiphonia japonica,” or "Dasy" for short.

"The lab is like, a few feet away from my classrooms," she said. "It's a lot easier to put in whatever time I have during the day."

For her research on an invasive seaweed found on Long Island's shores, Brentwood High School senior Minnahil Tariq used a scanning electron microscope that can magnify up to 100,000 times.

The microscope is part of the laboratory on the second floor of Brentwood's Sonderling Center, where there are large tanks with different species of sea life, including seaweed, shellfish and large carp. The center is where Tariq conducted her research to become a semifinalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation's most prestigious scientific competition. 

Like at Brentwood, many Long Island public and private schools have allocated resources and staff to provide scientific research opportunities for students. Educators said research programs as such help prepare students for careers in science and technology, and competitions, including Regeneron.

In New York State, more than 44% of the Regeneron semifinalists this year are from Long Island schools. The Syosset district has an Island-leading six. Voters in that district approved a bond in 2018 with about $1.7 million to renovate science classrooms at the high school that included funding for an upgraded lab now staffed with educators specializing in scientific research. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • In New York State, 44% of the semifinalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search this year are from Long Island schools.
  • Many Long Island public and private schools have allocated resources and staff to provide scientific research opportunities for students.
  • Educators say that such research programs help prepare students for future careers in science and technology.
Amber Luo in March 2022, when she was a Ward Melville...

Amber Luo in March 2022, when she was a Ward Melville High School senior and finished in third place among all finalists in the 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search competition. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

"I like to say that Long Islanders have invested deeply in their education system and they're getting the results that they're paying for," Syosset Superintendent Tom Rogers said. "When you see so many of these winners nationally coming from Long Island, it really is kind of a spectacular accomplishment for this system as a whole."

Long Island's 38 semifinalists will learn Tuesday if they will be among the 40 Regeneron finalists. Last year, Amber Luo of Ward Melville High School placed third in the overall competition, earning a $150,000 prize.

Earlier this month, 300 semifinalists known as “scholars” were named from national and international schools, each receiving $2,000 for their research work. The top 10 winners will be announced March 14 in Washington, D.C. The first-place prize is $250,000 — the largest prize available to a high school student in the United States.

Long Island students benefit from the access to world-class research institutions both locally and in New York City, where they can do field work, said Noelle Cutter, an associate professor at Molloy University who has served as a mentor to local students.

In addition, local schools have placed an emphasis on STEM over the past 10 years, including hiring staff specifically for the field, Cutter said.

“Every year I get more and more students who want to do summer research in the lab,” she said. “The faculty in the high schools are really encouraging this, even if they are not participating in Regeneron.”

Educators say research programs allow students to do college-level work in high school.

Becoming a Regeneron semifinalist takes a multiyear commitment from students, who work closely with mentors to guide their project. Mentors can be from outside the school system or educators in a district's program. While students often use outside labs for their research, some districts have created their own in-house labs. 

The upgraded Syosset lab opened in 2019, and most of the 18 seniors who submitted papers this year did their work there. The district receives a $2,000 award when its students are named scholars. That's $12,000, which research facilitator Veronica Ade will put back into the program.

Syosset High School student Vivek Turakhia, 17, looking through a...

Syosset High School student Vivek Turakhia, 17, looking through a microscope on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Students at Syosset High School who are in the honors sciences as freshmen are enrolled in a first-year research class. In 10th grade, they launch their independent research. They submit a project to Regeneron by November in their senior year. Syosset's program launched in 1989.

Senior Vivek Turakhia, 17, researched a specific chemical that has the potential to induce Parkinson's disease in a living organism. The high school lab houses a model organism — a microscopic worm called C. elegans — that he used for this study.

"That was a very arduous process because I had to stay in the lab after school, sometimes to around five or six working on certain experiments," he said.

Syosset High School students Brandon Gerosa, 15, and Brennen Cohen,...

Syosset High School students Brandon Gerosa, 15, and Brennen Cohen, 15, during a research class on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Often, work is done over the summer as students choose a topic to pursue and develop a scientific question to answer. 

Senior and semifinalist Tina Tianyi Zhang, 17, said she learned how to write resumes and cover letters in the class in addition to completing her project, which focused on linguistics.

"I feel like those things I wouldn't be able to learn in a normal class," she said.

In Brentwood, the Island's largest district in which nearly 90% of the 17,000 students are considered economically disadvantaged, the science research program has had success. 

The district has one semifinalist this year and two the previous year — twins Ricardo and Roberto Lopez, who are now studying at Yale University. Roberto had also gone to the finals. The district had a finalist in 2019: Ahmad Perez.

Twins Roberto, left, and Ricardo Lopez at the Brentwood High School-Ross Center...

Twins Roberto, left, and Ricardo Lopez at the Brentwood High School-Ross Center in 2022, when they were semifinalists in last year's Regeneron Science Talent Search. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

While many students in the competition work in outside labs at universities and other institutions, all of Brentwood's work is done in-house, and Rebecca Grella, research scientist and facilitator at the high school, serves as the students' mentor.

“This is not a classroom — this is a laboratory environment. What makes this program different is that we have brought the university-based lab to the high school,” Grella said. "We found that it was very difficult and really cost-prohibitive to get busing to university labs for our students over the summer months."

Brentwood High School student Minnahil Tariq, 17, on Tuesday.

Brentwood High School student Minnahil Tariq, 17, on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Through an agreement with Suffolk County, the students are paid for their field work in helping the county monitor water quality.

Grella has applied and received grants to cover resources and equipment. In October, the district received the scanning electron microscope from Hitachi Inspire the Next Program, which can typically cost more than six figures. It was used to identify diatoms on the algae in Tariq's project on the invasive species known as "Dasysiphonia japonica,” or "Dasy" for short.

"The lab is like, a few feet away from my classrooms," she said. "It's a lot easier to put in whatever time I have during the day."

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