Of 40 Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists worldwide, 7 are LIers. Get to know the young scientists.
Seven Long Island public school students will be competing this weekend in Washington, D.C., as finalists in the nation's most prestigious and well-known science competition: Regeneron Science Talent Search.
The competition started Thursday, and concludes Tuesday, when the top 10 finishers will be announced. The 40 finalists, high school seniors from across the country and abroad, are competing for awards ranging from $40,000 to $250,000. Each student automatically receives $25,000 for reaching the finals.
Regeneron selections are based on research skills, academics, innovation and promise as scientists. Long Island students' projects covered a variety of topics, including studies on the Island’s salt marsh ecosystem, eye cancer, voting habits and COVID-19-induced stress.
The students were chosen from among 1,804 applications received from 603 high schools across 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and eight countries. The finalists were selected from among 300 semifinalists chosen earlier this year.
Here's how they got there.
Ethan Chiu, 17, Jericho
School: Syosset High
Project title: Developing a Self-Formed Ectodermal Autonomous Multi-Zone Organoid Model using Human Stem Cells to Examine the Effect of Doxycycline Treatment on Uveal Melanoma
Inspiration for project: Volunteering at Nassau University Medical Center and meeting a woman who couldn't afford her son's cancer medications.
Project explainer for nonscientists: Created a model of uveal melanoma, an eye cancer with an 80% mortality rate, using human stem cells by knocking out key tumor suppressor genes. Evaluated the effect of doxycycline — an antibiotic previously used to treat breast cancer — on uveal melanoma to find more effective, efficient and economical therapies for eye cancer. I identified significant genes affected by uveal melanoma. I tracked those genes within the uveal melanoma model and evaluated how [the antibiotic] doxycycline affected their expression. Ultimately, I found that doxycycline increased the expression of tumor suppressor genes, making it harder for the tumors to proliferate.
My role model and why: My mom, Soofang Wang, since she is always so kind to everyone.
College plans, including major: I plan to major in East Asian Studies, biology and environmental policy. (He has not selected a college or university.)
My favorite video game: Europa Universalis IV.
What I do for fun: I enjoy reading about current events and watching investigative documentaries.
Something most don’t know about me: I'm really passionate about volunteering for environmental causes.
Rohan Ghotra, 17, Woodbury
School: Syosset High
Project title: Uncovering Motif Interactions from Convolutional Attention Networks for Regulatory Genomics
Inspiration for project: Genetic disorders, such as cancer, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, have caused countless deaths and remain incurable. I believe the most promising path to a cure is through gene editing, but there is still too much unknown about the DNA. In my project, I sought to help address this issue by researching artificial intelligence applications in genomics.
Project explainer for nonscientists: In my research, I developed a computational tool that can dissect artificial intelligence models to provide meaningful information about DNA-protein interactions.
My role model and why: American biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who pioneered the field of genome editing with her groundbreaking research on Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.
College plans, including major: I plan to attend Columbia University and major in biochemistry.
What I do for fun: Badminton and robotics.
My favorite movie: "Jurassic World."
Something most don’t know about me: I enjoy collecting pens.
Roberto Antonio Lopez, 17, Brentwood
School: Brentwood High
Project title: Evaluating Phragmites Australis Wrack Accumulation in a Long Island Salt Marsh Ecosystem and Assessing its Effect on Carbon Sequestration, the Nitrogen Cycle and Sediment Biota
Inspiration for project: I hope I can spread awareness about the protection of our environment and inform others that our world needs to be protected and that we can’t just let invasive species or global warming take control without fighting back.
Project explainer for nonscientists: My project focuses on using drone imaging to help locate and remove an invasive species, Phragmites australis, which poses a major threat to our salt marshes. These salt marshes are important because they not only slow down global warming drastically, but they protect coastal areas such as Long Island from land erosion, resulting from harsh wave action or storm surges.
My role model and why: Rebecca Grella, my research mentor at Brentwood High School, is my biggest source of inspiration. She takes adversity and tackles it straight-on. She has really become the symbol of women empowerment, where nothing can stop her from fulfilling her dream of creating an equal environment for all high school students to grow in and learn — where no student is left behind because of financial issues or race.
College plans, including major: I plan to attend Yale University and pursue a major in biology and become a nurse-anesthetist.
What I do for fun: I spend most of my free time with my three younger brothers, and I make sure they have the best possible time with me before I have to move away for college.
My favorite video games: My favorite games are Fortnite and Clash Royal.
Something most don’t know about me: I have an identical twin brother, and most of our teachers can’t tell us apart, so they call us "twin" or "Lopez Brother."
Christopher Vincenzo Luisi, 17, Bellmore
School: John F. Kennedy High, Bellmore
Project title: How Dietary Restriction Affects the Athleticism, Metabolic Rate, and Lifespan of Drosophila melanogaster
Inspiration for project: My grandmother was the type of woman who would show her love through her cooking. Even though she was fighting cancer for over 20 years, she always prepared delicious meals and put a smile on my face. As time passed, I watched her become weak and frail until, eventually, she could not walk, stand or eat by herself. Then she was hospitalized. On her deathbed, I remember my father reassuring me that I would make her proud by academically excelling in a new country and eventually becoming a researcher. Watching my grandmother pass ignited my passion for research in disease prevention and oncology, which is what I studied throughout my middle school and high school research programs.
Project explainer for nonscientists: Obesity is a notable health risk factor that increases morbidity and mortality. Past studies have shown that dietary restriction can increase the life span of obese fruitflies. This study is the first to compare a normal diet with dietary restriction of male and female virgin mutant flies with certain variants. Results showed that dietary restriction increases life span, metabolic rate, and athleticism. By investigating potential dieting techniques, obesity rates can be lowered, leading to better treatment options for individuals to live healthier lives.
My role model and why: My role model is my father, because he is very supportive of me and my scientific endeavors.
College plans, including major: I am still undecided on where I am going to college, but I want to major in biology, with a premed track.
What I do for fun: I like to hang out with my friends and family and occasionally play video games.
My favorite video game: Star Wars Battlefront II, where I get to play as my favorite Star Wars characters.
Something most don’t know about me: I am a certified scuba diver and flew a plane when I was in elementary school. I also emigrated from Italy to the United States when I was 10 years old.
Amber Luo, 18, Stony Brook
School: Ward Melville, East Setauket
Project title: RiboBayes: A Wavelet Transform-Based Computational Platform to Assess the Transcriptomic Distribution and Regulation of Ribosome Pause Sites in Ribosome Profiling Data
Inspiration for project: I’ve always sought to integrate my childhood foundation in mathematics with the newfound love for biology that I discovered upon moving to New York from Houston and joining my school’s Science Olympiad team. As I delved deeper into both fields, I grew fascinated with the rich intersections between mathematics and biology. It was this fascination that drove the development of RiboBayes, which is, at its core, a mathematical solution to a biological problem. RiboBayes is special to me because it was my first dive into the world of computational biology, teaching me the power of exploring biology through a mathematical lens and strengthening my desire to major in applied mathematics and biology.
Project explainer for nonscientists: In my project, I developed an original algorithmic and statistical computational tool — RiboBayes — that identifies how ribosomes move along a cell’s mRNA transcript to produce proteins. This tool can provide vital insights into changes in protein synthesis that occur in diseases, opening the door to discovering critical therapeutic approaches to treat any diseases, ranging from cancers to neurodegenerative disorders.
My role model and why: Dr. Jamie Wells. She is a pediatrician, an adjunct professor at Drexel University’s School of Biomedical Engineering in Philadelphia, and the director of RSI 2021 [the research program that my research was conducted through]. Dr. Wells is an incredibly talented and inspiring scientist — but what makes her truly unforgettable is the warmth, joy and understanding with which she pursues science and fosters the passions of her students.
College plans, including major: I have not committed to an institution yet. I wish to integrate my childhood love for mathematics with my passion for biology by majoring in computational biology or applied math, and pursuing a career as a research professor.
What I do for fun: I own an Instagram dance cover account, where I post videos of me covering various K-pop dances from my home, ranging from hip-hop boy group songs to cute girl-group bubble gum pop! Dancing is an outlet of creativity for me, and it’s so relaxing to coordinate outfits, learn dances, and do my makeup after a long day of research.
My favorite video game: Pokemon Glazed.
Something most don’t know about me: I founded and direct an educational STEM nonprofit called Illumina Learning, to provide free online courses in biology, research and computing from accomplished high school scientists to aspiring young students from around the world.
Desiree Rigaud, 17, Bellmore
School: John F. Kennedy High School, Bellmore
Project title: COVID-19 Induced Economic Stress: The Effect on Marital Functioning and Alleviating Financial Stress
Inspiration for project: During the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw the domestic violence rates rising and the economy declining. Many people I knew were experiencing layoffs, salary cuts, etc., which caused them a lot of stress. As a result of this and other personal experiences, I wanted to use my work to alleviate the stress of those struggling financially and aid in reducing aggression in marital relationships.
Project explainer for nonscientists: The COVID-19 pandemic incited a major economic downturn. Research has shown a relationship between economic stress and abuse in relationships. With this knowledge, part one of the study evaluated the effect of economic hardship on marital functioning. One hundred participants completed questionnaires about their marital functioning and finances. The data suggested that high financial stress decreases marital functioning. Inspired by this finding, part two aimed to compare the efficacy of two therapy methods in alleviating this financial stress. Sixty-two participants were divided into groups and were each asked about their finances and how frequently they were stressed about finances before going through the interventions for a week. After the intervention, participants completed a follow-up questionnaire on their financial stress levels. Participants in one group focused on their values without regard to finances and showed a decrease in financial stress at the end of the week. Participants in another group focused on budgeting for a week experienced an increase in financial stress. The study suggests that focusing on one’s values is effective in mitigating financial stress.
My role model and why: My parents are my role models, because they’ve shown great strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
College plans, including major: Colgate University in upstate Hamilton for political science.
What I do for fun: I spend time with my friends and siblings, draw, play instruments, go thrift shopping, and participate in many clubs at my school.
My favorite game: I am an avid Wordle user, and I play many other variations of the game daily as well.
Something most don’t know about me: I am a huge New York Yankees and New York Rangers fan.
Han Byur (Hailee) Youn, 17, Roslyn
School: Roslyn High
Project title: Why We Vote: How Positive Descriptive Norms and Holding a Minority Political Viewpoint Increase Citizens’ Intention and Responsibility to Vote
Inspiration for project: The summer after ninth grade, I began volunteering for a grassroots organization and helped register first-time voters in the tristate area. Before this experience, I wasn’t aware of the fact that such a large portion of eligible voters consistently chose not to participate in elections. Thus, I became interested in understanding the psychology behind a citizen’s decision of whether or not to vote and started my research on this topic.
Project explainer for nonscientists: In my study, I explored two variables that may increase citizens’ likelihood to vote in elections: descriptive norms, and holding a minority/majority political viewpoint. I found that positive descriptive norms, which indicate a lot of other people will be voting in the election, lead people to have intent and feel responsible to vote. I also found that when a citizen holds a minority political viewpoint — meaning that the political party they are affiliated with is not registered in large numbers — they feel responsible to vote. I hope these findings can become a positive contribution to the political science community and help increase low voter turnout rates.
My role model and why: Late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a long-standing role model. Her dedication to dismantling discriminatory policies and practices, as well as her advocacy for equality among all citizens, inspired me to pursue law and help others.
College plans, including major: I plan on majoring in political science. I also hope to study abroad and perhaps minor in a foreign language, such as Arabic or Spanish. (She has not selected a college or university.)
My favorite movie: "Back to the Future," and I'm a big fan of all the Marvel films.
What I do for fun: I love to spend time with my family and friends, whether we are hiking at a local trail, making acai bowls, or watching movies.
Something most don’t know about me: Most people don’t know about my love for flowers and creating floral arrangements. Stephanotis and dahlias are my favorite flowers.