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46 LI students are named Regeneron Scholars in prestigious contest

They hail from 18 public school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties and private schools in Great Neck, South Huntington and Lawrenceville, N.J.

Forty-six Long Island students in public and private schools are among 300 high school seniors nationwide named scholars Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country's oldest high school competition in the math and sciences, but the school with the most of any system on the Island was the Jericho school district, with 11 Regeneron Scholars. (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

Forty-six Long Island students in public and private schools were among 300 high school seniors nationwide named scholars Tuesday in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest high school competition in the math and science.

In the Bethpage district, educators said Bethpage High School senior Smiti Shah — whose research project focused on efforts to increase access to clean water — is their first-ever honoree in the contest.

Shah, 17, called recognition as a Regeneron Scholar an “incomparable honor.”

“Since eighth grade, it’s been my goal to achieve semifinalist status, and I had the STS sticker on my wall for four years. Finally achieving this goal is incredible,” said Shah, who was mentored at Hofstra University. Her project involved using biological agents such as coriander and onions to synthesize silver nanoparticles, which then were used to rid E. coli from contaminated water.

Jericho High School also made history Tuesday, with 11 scholars named — the most of any district on Long Island, the second-most in the state and the most in the district’s recent history. Last year, the high school of about 1,100 students fielded nine scholars, with one earning fifth-place in the national finals held in Washington, D.C.

“I didn’t think we could beat the number we had last year . . . and to get 11 is mind-blowing,” said Jericho’s science research coordinator, Serena McCalla. “The common thread is that they actually allow me to push them as hard as they need to be pushed in order to succeed.”

This year’s Regeneron Scholars — who effectively are semifinalists in the competition — are from 18 public school districts across the Island. Twelve Nassau systems, including Hewlett-Woodmere and Syosset, are represented, as are six districts in Suffolk, ranging from Half Hollow Hills in Dix Hills to Setauket-based Three Village.

Of the districts with more than two honorees, Great Neck has seven — four at Great Neck South High School and three at Great Neck North — while Smithtown has four — three at Smithtown High School East and one at Smithtown High School West.

“My heart started beating so fast, and I called my parents and they are very supportive,” said Smithtown High School West senior Sarah Adamo, 17. “We are over the moon about it.”

In addition to working in her high school lab, Adamo was mentored at Stony Brook University Medical Center, where she spent hours focusing on the nervous system of the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis. The organism, one of the first to evolve a nervous system, provides insight into how the nervous system functions and that can be translated to how the nervous system works in humans, Adamo explained. Her research could lead to potential ways to treat disorders such as addiction and Alzheimer’s disease.

North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck and St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington were the private schools on the Island with students who were recognized. A student from Kings Point who attends The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey was named a scholar as well.

“These brilliant students have already made remarkable scientific achievements at a young age, and we are eager to see where their scientific journeys take them next,” Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science & the Public and publisher of Science News, said in a statement.

The competition is sponsored by the Society for Science & the Public, which founded it in 1942. It formerly was sponsored by Intel.

Each scholar receives a $2,000 prize, and individual schools get $2,000 for each of their recognized students.

The competition will be winnowed down Jan. 23, when 40 finalists are named.

Those students will compete March 8-14 in the nation’s capital for prizes totaling more than $1.8 million. Winners are to be announced March 13.

Smithtown High School East senior Sydney Bracht, 18, said Tuesday she was in Florida to watch her brother run the Disney World marathon during the weekend and still was there when her school called about the forthcoming news from the Regeneron competition. She joined her classmates via Facetime.

“The announcement came in and even though we weren’t physically together, we were still all together,” she said.

Bracht’s research focused on worms, specifically C. elegans. She studied cell invasion in the worm to investigate genes that regulate the process. Her work holds a potential connection to human genes in stopping or slowing the spread of cancer.

Jericho senior Mutahara Bhuiyan’s research focused on resource sustainability, looking at the viability of cellulose nanofibers — effective adsorbents for water treatment — produced through an innovative method that is not as long or energy consumptive as traditional manufacturing processes. Her parents immigrated from Bangladesh and her heritage has been an inspiration for her research.

On a trip there in 2007, she said she witnessed so much scarcity that she aims to work in environmental sciences and sustainability.

“Ever since then, my goal has been to help people,” said Bhuiyan, 17.

Caroline Smolensky, a senior from Woodbury who attends St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, designed, built and tested a device that could be implanted into the brain to test for any secondary injuries after a traumatic brain injury. She conducted her research at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset.

She was in theology class at the high school when educators told her she was named a scholar.

“It was very overwhelming, but exciting at the same time,” said Smolensky, 16.

Judges selected the first-round winners from 1,818 applicants hailing from 555 high schools in 45 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and overseas schools.

Last year, the Island had 58 first-round winners. Prize money for winners and finalists in the last round of the competition ranges from $25,000 to a grand prize of $250,000.

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