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Four LI teens named Intel finalists

For parents wondering what to tell their kids about teenage drinking, high school scientist Chelsea Jurman has an answer: What you don't say may be even more important.

Jurman, a Roslyn High School senior who spent a year examining how parental behavior and teens' perception of it predicts underage drinking, was one of four Long Island students to be named finalists Wednesday in the national Intel science contest.

Click for photos of the science contest finalists

Her findings might come as a surprise to some parents, who believe being honest with their children about their own high school drinking is the best way to promote responsible attitudes toward alcohol. Turns out, teens who think their parents drank when they were underage are more likely to do it themselves.

The project involved analyzing data from 125 student surveys distributed to upperclassmen at Roslyn High.

"I wanted to find out why are some people starting to drink while some people are still saying no," said Jurman, 17, who is also editor of the school newspaper. "What I've taken away from what I found is that parents might not want to discuss their past behaviors with their kids."

In all, New York State had nine finalists - the most of any state. They included four from New York City (two each from prestigious Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science) and one from Westchester County.

In addition to Jurman, two students from Ward Melville High School in East Setauket and one from Smithtown High School West were named finalists. Last year, Long Island had nine Intel finalists.

The finalists will receive at least $5,000 each in scholarships and a new laptop. They will compete in March in Washington, D.C., for a $100,000 scholarship from Intel.

Both finalists from Ward Melville tackled cancer research in their projects. Senior Preya Shah, 17, of Setauket, created a new synthetic drug that targets cancer cells while leaving healthy ones unharmed.

"The novel drug has exciting potential to treat drug-resistant cancer without causing significant side effects," said Shah, who says her mother, a doctor, and her father, an engineer, stoked her interest in science.

"My parents have been encouraging," she said.

For Shah's classmate, Christine Shrock, 17, science is also a family affair. Both her parents are scientists, and her project was inspired by her aunt and grandfather's battles with cancer. Her research targeted structural changes at the molecular level of a protein called MDM2, to help design better cancer drugs. She was a regional finalist last school year in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for a project on HIV with her younger sister, Ellen.

Shah was a Siemens regional finalist this year.

Patrick Abejar, 17, a senior at Smithtown West, focused his project on global warming patterns. He measured the level of boron in marine fossils, and found that those levels fluctuate with global warming and cooling. The higher levels indicate a global warming cycle, lower levels a global cooling period.

"The pattern is cyclical and we can use this model to predict what will occur next," Abejar said. Even so, the teenage scientist was unable to predict his own success in the contest.

During a conversation with his father Tuesday night, on the eve of the finalists' announcement, Abejar warned his family not to get their hopes up. "I was, like, 'It's really tough and they only pick 40, so don't expect that much,' " Abejar said. "Just, like, literally 30 minutes later, they called to tell me I was a finalist."

Click for photos of the science contest finalists


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