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2 LI students named Intel finalists

Michael Zhang, 18, left, of Smithtown High School

Michael Zhang, 18, left, of Smithtown High School East, and Mayuri Sridhar, 17, of Kings Park High School, have been selected as finalists in the Intel Science competition. Credit: Handouts

Two Long Island students -- from Kings Park High School and Smithtown High School East -- are finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search.

Wednesday's announcement means Mayuri Sridhar, 17, of Kings Park, and Michael Zhang, 18, of St. James, will square off with 38 other finalists from across the country to compete for top awards in March. Five other students in New York were named finalists.

Both Long Island students worked with scientists in the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University. They will compete for a total of $630,000 in awards provided by the Intel Foundation; the top winner will receive $100,000.

Sridhar and Zhang each have been awarded $7,500 for their participation so far.

Sridhar, who was accepted early to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used computer modeling to gain a better understanding of a protein called p53, which is found in all human cells and works to prevent cancer.

While much is known about the protein, it's unclear why cells develop cancer when the protein is not functioning properly.Sridhar said she was thrilled to become a finalist, giving thanks to her supportive family and the researchers who helped her. Her sister, Hamsa Sridhar, was an Intel finalist in 2008 and now is a graduate student in engineering.

"I am just really lucky," she said. "I have had the best experience."

Carlos Simmerling, a professor in the department of chemistry at Stony Brook who has worked with Sridhar for more than a year, called her creative and persistent. "She doesn't give up easily," he said.

Zhang used computers -- specifically eye-tracking technology -- to analyze the eye movements of about 40 student volunteers to learn more about their thought processes, a technique that one day might be used to detect criminal behavior or even customer preference.

He said he learned he had been named a finalist on Tuesday afternoon, while riding home with a friend. "I was like, 'Oh my God. Wow,' " Zhang said. "I can't believe it. It's unbelievable. It really is."

Zhang has been accepted to the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He hasn't made a decision, saying there are many schools with programs he admires and he'll wait until he hears from each of them.

Greg Zelinsky, an associate professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, said Zhang is "a really impressive guy, very humble, very polite."

This year, 1,712 high school seniors entered the competition from 467 high schools in 42 states, in addition to Washington, D.C., Guam and two American schools overseas. Earlier this month, 300 semifinalists were named, including 53 from Long Island.

New York has the highest number of finalists, followed by California, with six.

Two other Intel finalists, Raghav Tripathi of Portland, Ore., and Kevin Chen of Fremont, Calif., also were mentored by Stony Brook staff in the Simons Summer Research Program.Last year, Brentwood High School senior Samantha Garvey, who was homeless when she was named an Intel semifinalist grabbed headlines for her perseverance and was singled out by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech for her work with marine life.

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