Bill Crugnola, 17, a senior at Jericho High School, Katie...

Bill Crugnola, 17, a senior at Jericho High School, Katie Mazalkova, 17, a senior at Valley Stream Central High School, and Jay Zussman, 17, a senior at Great Neck South High School are going to Siemens nationals. Credit: Tim Kaulen, J. Conrad Williams Jr., Alejandra Villa

Three Long Island high school seniors whose research may help improve human reproductive health and fight cardiovascular disease have advanced to the national finals of the prestigious Siemens science research competition.

Jay Zussman, 17, of Great Neck, was named an individual finalist; and Bill Crugnola, 17, of Jericho, and Katie Mazalkova, 17, of Valley Stream, won in the team category.

The regional award ceremony was held Saturday night at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The Long Island trio will join about 18 students at the finals of the 2014 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, scheduled for Dec. 5-9 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

A total of $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including top prizes of $100,000 each in the individual and team categories.

"I feel absolutely ecstatic that I've been given this incredible opportunity to move forward and compete at the national level," said Zussman, who attends Great Neck South High School.

John Woolford, a Carnegie Mellon biological sciences professor who judged Zussman's project, said the teen is "very passionate about his science and . . . improving reproductive health."

Woolford said Zussman's study into the mechanics of meiosis, a type of cell division in sexual reproduction, could help scientists better understand the onset of "debilitating diseases."

Crugnola, from Jericho High School, and Mazalkova, from Valley Stream Central High School, worked in a Molloy College lab last summer as part of the college's high school internship program. Their study on atherosclerosis, which causes plaque to build up inside arteries, cast new light on stem cells that promote formation of the disease.

"I'm feeling out of this world right now," Mazalkova said Saturday night. "I can't believe they picked us."

Crugnola said he was feeling a "mixture of relief, excitement and shock."

Brooke M. McCartney, also a biological sciences professor at Carnegie Mellon, said the students identified several proteins that "may be good targets for the development of drugs" to block an important step in the progression of the disease.

Not surprisingly, all three winners said they want to be doctors.

There were 97 regional Siemens finalists nationwide, seven from Long Island.Zussman won a $3,000 prize last night; the Crugnola-Mazalkova team was awarded $6,000.Also competing in the team competition were Lee Blackburn and Arthur Chen, both 16 and juniors at Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst; and Justin Lish, 16, a junior at Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway. They worked on a project aimed at enhancing hydrogen fuel-cell performance.

Niyati Desai, 17, a senior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, competed individually with a project that examined graphene-ferroelectric hybrid devices that could be a viable alternative to the silicon-based technology used in items such as radios and computers.

A record 4,428 students registered for this year's competition. There were 1,784 projects submitted for consideration -- a 12 percent increase over last year, organizers said.

Last year, three George W. Hewlett High School seniors won the $100,000 team grand prize, making the school the first to win two years in a row. The 2013 winners -- Priyanka Wadgaonkar, JiaWen Pei and Zainab Mahmood -- found that plants with multiple copies of genes that help with ozone tolerance are more resistant to environmental impacts.

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Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

What's next for Democrats now that Biden is out ... Suffolk cyber security ... Cleaning up the beaches ... Sunflower fields

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