Three Long Island high school seniors won scholarships totaling $50,000 Tuesday in the prestigious Siemens national research competition, honoring their scientific work in finding potential ways to improve human reproductive health and fight cardiovascular disease.
Bill Crugnola, of Jericho High School, and Katie Mazalkova, of Valley Stream Central High School, will share the $30,000 scholarship they won in the team competition, while Jay Zussman, of Great Neck South High School, earned a $20,000 scholarship in the individual category. All are 17.
"I feel so honored for the recognition I received for my research," said Zussman, who studied the mechanics of meiosis, a type of cell division in sexual reproduction.
Scholarships totaling $500,000 to the 20 winners and finalists in the 2014 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology were announced at The George Washington University in the nation's capital.
The three Long Islanders were among 20 students from across the country -- six individuals and six teams, all winners of regional finals -- who presented their projects to a panel of nationally renowned scientists and mathematicians.
"Today a lot of people talk about developing STEM further, and how to fix problems with science education, and this really shows that there are people accomplishing great things with STEM," Mazalkova said after she and Crugnola received their award.
Taking the team grand prize of a $100,000 scholarship were Eli Echt-Wilson, 18, and Albert Zuo, 18, of Albuquerque. They created a computer model that simulates how a tree will grow in varying conditions.
"Their paper changes the way I looked at trees," said Randy Wayne, associate professor of agriculture and life sciences at Cornell University in upstate Ithaca and a competition judge. "Eli and Albert are not production scientists, but rather original, innovative, skilled craftsmen who can work together to help solve a pressing challenge."
Peter Tian, 17, of The Wellington School in Columbus, Ohio, took the $100,000 scholarship in the individual category for his project, "Extremal Functions of Forbidden Multidimensional Matrices."
His research has potential applications to motion planning in space or circuit design, such as in programming for self-driving cars.
Mazalkova and Crugnola's study on atherosclerosis, which causes plaque to build up in arteries, casts new light on stem cells that promote formation of the disease. They worked in a Molloy College laboratory last summer as part of the Rockville Centre college's high school internship program in the biology, chemistry and environmental studies department.
"The end of the competition has given me great perspective on how far me and Katie have really come in such a short amount of time," Crugnola said.
The three Long Island students moved to the national level after first being named semifinalists and then vying against other students who made it to the regional final last month at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
A record 2,263 students submitted 1,784 projects for consideration in the competition's 15th year.
Last year, three students from George W. Hewlett High School in Hewlett won the $100,000 grand prize in the team competition.
In their research, 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. The findings held implications for effects from drought and pollution to salt and bacteria, potentially lessening crop losses.