Left to right, Jiachen Lee, Arooba Ahmed and Jillian Parker...

Left to right, Jiachen Lee, Arooba Ahmed and Jillian Parker -- all from the Half Hollow Hills school district -- are headed to the final round of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. They are shown on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, at Half Hollow Hills High School East. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A trio of young scientists from the Half Hollow Hills school district who studied cell division in the hopes of reducing the effects of degenerative illnesses will advance to the final round of the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology.

The students, who presented their projects to judges Saturday at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh via video conference, were the only ones from Long Island to achieve the national finalist designation, according to an announcement at noon Monday. The national finals take place Dec. 4-5 in the nation’s capital at George Washington University.

The team of local finalists comprises Jillian Parker, 16, a junior at Half Hollow Hills High School West, and Half Hollow Hills East juniors Arooba Ahmed 15, and Jiachen Lee, 16. They were among 101 regional finalists named last month — 11 of whom hailed from Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Their project identified a protein, CCDC11, that had not previously been known to have a role in the cell-division process. The team discovered that the protein could be used to mitigate the potential effects of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. The team members share a $6,000 scholarship for their work.

“We think that our research can help so many people,” Ahmed said. “We want to continue forward with it.”

Already, the team is brainstorming with researchers as far away as the Netherlands and considering how to manipulate the protein in order to stop the spread of viruses.

In the national finals, six teams are competing for a top $100,000 prize, as will six individuals in a separate category. Brian Huang of Fresh Meadows won top individual honors in the Regional Four phase — where the Long Island students competed — for his work probing the formation of black holes.

The finalists — a total of 21 students from across the country, in the individual and team competitions — were drawn from a pool of more than 1,860 projects. Last month, Siemens named 491 semifinalists, 56 of whom were from the Island.

Finalists next month will compete for $500,000 in scholarships, including the two top prizes of $100,000 for the individual and team categories. Prizes are shared among members of a team, which usually consist of two to three students. The contest also awards two $50,000 second prizes, while other teams or individual finalists receive $25,000 each.

It’s the second consecutive year that Half Hollow Hills students have been in the national finals. Last year, Alice Wu, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School West, and out-of-state teammates finished fifth and shared a $20,000 scholarship.

“Great students,” Michael W. Lake, the district’s academic research director, said when asked to describe the district’s winning formula.

Eight other Long Island students received a $1,000 scholarship:

  • Rahul Parthasarathy, a Syosset High School senior, who competed in the individual category.
  • Vedant Singh, a junior at The Wheatley School in the East Williston school district, who was on a team with Herricks High School juniors Sahith Vadada and Rushikesh Patel.
  • Alan Jian, a senior at Garden City High School, who was on a team with Roslyn High School senior Austin Lee and Caitlyn Chen, a senior at The Spence School in Manhattan.
  • Jang Hun Choi, a Jericho High School senior, who was on a team with Chris Lee, a sophomore at the Seoul International School in Seongnam, South Korea, and Soohyun Ahn, a junior at Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts.
  • And Baokun Gu, a junior at Manhasset High School, who was on a team with Stanley Wong, a senior from Hunter College High School in Manhattan.

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