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44 students from Long Island named Intel semifinalists

Crystal Zheng, left, of Jericho High School; Arielle

Crystal Zheng, left, of Jericho High School; Arielle Gabalski, center, of Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School and Steve Zheng, of Jericho High School, are Intel semifinalists. Credit: Jericho School District and Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District

Forty-four high school seniors from Long Island will compete with others nationwide in the Intel Science Talent Search contest that this year features an expanded pot of prize money, including three first-place awards of $150,000 each.

Organizers of the nation's oldest student research competition Wednesday announced the names of 300 semifinalists -- 90 from New York State alone. Winners were chosen from 1,844 entries, the highest number since 1998.

The Roslyn and Great Neck school districts had the largest numbers of semifinalists on the Island this year, with four each. Bellmore-Merrick, Jericho, Manhasset and Syosset each have three winners.

At Roslyn High School, several students gathered in a third-floor research center jumped from their chairs as the noon announcement of 2015 semifinalists appeared on an oversized screen. Others exchanged high-fives or called parents to share the news.

"It's unbelievable!" said David Jaslow, 17. "All the work we put into this during lunch, after school, late at night. The fact that someone else recognized our work -- it meant a lot, it really did."

Jaslow's research project tackled the issue of retirement savings, especially the question of how to encourage people to put more money in 401(k) plans. One conclusion from the study, which was based on surveys of 360 adults, is that people are likely to invest more in retirement funds when offered a modest number of choices, rather than being overwhelmed with dozens of options.

Intel, the California-based computer-chip manufacturer, has sponsored the talent search competition since 1998. The contest began in 1942.

New York City and its suburbs have tended to dominate the competition, though California, Maryland, New Jersey and other states have narrowed the gap in recent years.

As usual, a majority of New York State's semifinalists this year hailed from the Nassau-Suffolk and Westchester-Rockland suburbs. One local semifinalist, Natalie Correa, who lives in Rockville Centre, attends St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

Sayville High School celebrated its first capture of two semifinalist awards in a single year, with the naming of Nicholas Cowan and Emily Faughnan, both 17.

"Really awesome," said Maria Brown, the school's science research teacher.

This year's 43 semifinalist awards for seniors enrolled in Nassau and Suffolk high schools is down from 50 awards last year and 89 in the Island's peak year of 2003.

Each semifinalist named Wednesday wins $1,000, plus an equal amount for his or her school. Forty finalists, to be chosen Jan. 21, will receive an additional $7,500 and a chance to vie for national prizes during finals judging to be held in Washington, D.C., from March 5-11.

Awards are larger this year under a revamped system that sponsors said will better recognize diverse achievement and reflect the continued climb in college costs.

There will be three first-place prizes of $150,000 each, instead of a single top $100,000 award, as in previous years. Those sums, accompanied by medals, will recognize achievement in three distinct areas: Basic Research, which is more theoretical in nature; Global Good, which addresses real-world problems; and Innovation, which emphasizes creativity.

"A single top award was just not enough to recognize the passion we've seen in these young scientists," said Justin Rattner, president of the Intel Foundation, which funds the competition. "We've always believed that America's young scientists and engineers should be every bit as celebrated as our young athletes."

Second-place and third-place prizes of $75,000 and $35,000, respectively, also will be awarded in each category. Overall, the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search will distribute $1,612,500 in rewards this year -- a 31 percent increase from last year's figure.

New York State's students submitted an overall total of 1,096 research projects to Intel for this year's competition -- well more than half the total nationally. By comparison, students in California, the second-ranked state in terms of number of entries, submitted 126 projects.

The 90 semifinalist projects from New York represent 8.2 percent of the total submitted statewide. California's 46 winning projects constitute 36.5 percent of projects from that state.

The numerical discrepancy prompted some Island educators to question privately whether contest judging may be weighted in favor of geographical balance.

Competition officials said judging is strictly by a merit system that considers the quality of each project as well as individual student's school grades, personal essays and teacher recommendations.

"It is not at all that we see any decrease in quality of applications we get from New York State," said Caitlin Sullivan, program manager for the Intel Science Talent Search. "But it's also true that we have more students in other parts of the country who are doing good work as well."

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