Wheatley School District student Arjun Kapoor a Regional Finalist in...

Wheatley School District student Arjun Kapoor a Regional Finalist in the Siemens Competition for his work with computers, with his teacher Tom Van Bell. (Oct. 18, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Six Long Island high school seniors who spent months researching the inner structure of plants, and two other students who focused on supercomputers, captured regional-finalist status yesterday in the national Siemens science competition.

The eight will be among 100 students nationwide competing for regional prizes of $3,000 and a grand national prize of $100,000, to be awarded in December.

Students at George W. Hewlett High School, a perennial victor in the contest, carried away the greatest number of local honors. Two of the school's research teams, with three students each, won finalist designations.

Students at Herricks High School in New Hyde Park and The Wheatley School in Old Westbury also took finalist titles.

Most Hewlett students were meeting with a college recruiter when the initial results in the 2013 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology were announced. A few teens spotted the news on cellphones or laptop computers, and word of the school's triumph quickly spread.

"We kind of freaked out a bit," said finalist Priyanka Wadgaonkar, 16, a senior. "But we couldn't scream, because we were in a college info session. So we kind of jumped around in our seats and smirked."

An elated Terrence Bissondial, the science research teacher who trained all of Hewlett's finalists, said, "I haven't slept the last three days."

Students at Hewlett High conduct projects entirely within the school's labs; in many other districts, students do their work at nearby universities and other research centers.

Long Island as a region continued to excel in the competition, continuing a tradition. Siemens judges named 67 students from Nassau and Suffolk counties as semifinalists -- more than one-fifth of 331 semifinalists nationwide.

Both of Hewlett's winning research projects dealt with plants, their gene structure and defense mechanisms against environmental hazards such as global warming. Bissondial, 40, holds a doctorate in molecular biology.

The other finalists from Hewlett High, which serves the Hewlett-Woodmere district, were Michael Green, Ayman Haider, Stephen Ng, JiaWen Pei and Zainab Mahmood. All are seniors and are 17.

Sahil Abbi, 14, a sophomore, was the regional finalist at Herricks High School. Arjun Kapoor, 15, a junior, was the finalist at Wheatley, which serves the East Williston district.

Abbi and Kapoor worked as a team that also included Connor Abbott, 17, who attends Hopkins School in New Haven, Conn. A Stony Brook University math professor, Yuefan Deng, served as the group's mentor.

Abbi said that the group researched the way supercomputers communicate between processors. "We were trying to find the best possible way to lay out the cores and the way they are connected," he said.

Renee Barcia, science research coordinator for Herricks, called Abbi "one of the scientists to watch for the future."

All finalists will compete in regional meets next month. Winners of those events will advance to the national finals, scheduled Dec. 7-10 in Washington, D.C.

In last year's competition, a trio of Hewlett High seniors ultimately won the $100,000 grand prize. Jeremy Appelbaum, William Gil and Allen Shin shared their scholarship award for research involving a plant protein with potential for fighting cancer. The team had to rush to redo project exhibit posters that were stored in a home basement and destroyed by superstorm Sandy.

The Siemens competition, launched in 1998, is one of the two best-known student research contests in the country. Funding is provided by a German-based electronics corporation of the same name, and the contest is managed by the Manhattan-based College Board, which also sponsors the SAT and other exams.

2013 Siemens Competition regional finalists from Long Island

Michael Green, Ayman Haider and Stephen Ng, all 17 and of Hewlett High School

Project title: Novel FyPP Protein Phosphatase 2A with Puroindoline B Domain Binds to Phytochromes in Ceratopteris richardii

Zainab Mahmood, 17, JiaWen Pei, 17, and Priyanka Wadgaonkar, 16, all of Hewlett High School

Project title: The Isolation and Characterization of an Ozone Responsive Stress Related Protein (OZS) in Ceratopteris richardii

Sahil Abbi, 14, of Herricks High School, Arjun Kapoor, 15, of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, and Connor Abbott, 17, of the Hopkins School in New Haven, Conn.

Project title: Optimization of Parallel Computing Network Topologies Using Simulated Annealing With a Novel Distance Recalculation Algorithm


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