An Oceanside grandson of cancer survivors captured national honors Monday in the Siemens student research competition with a project that ultimately could help doctors shrink lung-cancer tumors.
Blake Smith, 17, a senior at Oceanside High School, split a $30,000, fourth-place scholarship with his teammate, Vickram Gidwani, 16, a junior at the private Horace Mann High School in the Bronx. Their award and others were announced after a final round of judging during the weekend in Washington.
For Smith, who is the first Siemens finalist from his school, the award carries extra significance. Both paternal grandparents are cancer survivors -- his grandmother of ovarian cancer, and his grandfather of prostate cancer.
"When I first heard them call my name . . . it was awesome," Smith said shortly after contest officials presented him and Gidwani with an oversized symbolic check during an awards ceremony at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
In reference to his grandparents, Smith said that "seeing them benefit from state-of-the-art therapies made me want to do something with lung cancer."
This year's first-place team prize of $100,000 went to Ziyuan Liu and Cassee Cain of Oak Ridge, Tenn., for use of gaming technology to analyze human walking patterns. The first-place individual award, also $100,000, went to Angela Zhang of Cupertino, Calif., for research into eradication of cancer stem cells.
Six individuals and six teams vied in the national finals after selection at six regional competitions last month. Nine Long Island students, including Smith, were named as regional finalists and competed in Pittsburgh last month. A record 2,436 students competed this year in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, which is funded by a foundation established by a German-based electronics conglomerate of the same name.
Smith and Gidwani, of Demarest, N.J., teamed up two summers ago at Mount Sinai Medical School in Manhattan under the mentorship of Dr. Goutham Narla, an assistant professor there. Their research involved removing anti-psychotic elements from a drug and "repurposing" it to treat lung tumors.
Both teenagers worked two full summers at Mount Sinai, and were in near-constant contact via Skype when not in the lab. Dr. Umesh K. Gidwani, who is Vickram Gidwani's father and Mount Sinai's chief of cardiac care, said he had to pry the students from their lab at the end of each day.
"I don't even think they thought it was work," he said.
As usual, this year's finalists are a multifaceted group that includes a drum major, a songwriter and a software designer. Smith plays the viola, Gidwani, the saxophone; both compete on tennis teams.
Sharing Smith's victory in Washington were Dennis and Deborah Smith, his parents, and Heather Hall, director of Oceanside's research program and a teacher there.
"I got to watch him grow and learn and blossom," Hall said. "Most teachers get to see their students for just 180 days. I get to work with them for four years."
With Susan Milligan