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Sunnyside student wins big in Intel contest

Scan a list of the project titles for which 300 young scholars earned semi-finalist status in the Intel Science Talent Search and you may very well question your competency in English.

They talk of “intravenous secretin infusion” and “ancient sirmium,” the “genomic effects” of estrogen and “sonochemical synthesis of II-VI semiconductor nanocrystallites.”

But Oswald Espinoza took a different approach.

“Everybody made their Intel title super scientific and everything,” said the 17-year-old Sunnyside resident. “I tried to keep mine as straightforward as possible.”

His title, like his project, is something anyone can understand: “Children’s Short-term Memory Retrieval Abilities in Relation to the Content of Information.”

The simplicity of his project name was a conscious decision, because Espinoza researched a topic whose results he hoped would be as interesting to parents as to scientists.

“I figured if I was going to do a research paper, it might as well be something socially worthy, something that you could point out and people would actually care about,” said Espinoza, who learned last week he had won a $1,000 scholarship for his research in cognitive psychology.

Espinoza studied nearly 100 students between third and eighth grade at a day care center in Manhattan and a public school in Queens to determine what types of information would stick in their memories.

He read the students a series of statements that were either aggressive, friendly or shy and asked the students to write them down.

“I found that both boys and girls tend to retain aggressive information into memory significantly more than” other types, he said.

But he also looked at the students’ preconceived notions about gender.

Before reading each statement, he would tell the students whether it was coming from a boy named John or a girl named Joan. In addition to trying to write down the statements, the children had to remember whether John or Jane had said it.

The female students tended to associate the shy statements with Joan, even when John had actually been the speaker.

“They stereotyped basically their own gender being socially withdrawn,” he said.

Boys did not have that tendency. Neither boys nor girls incorrectly associated the aggressive statements with either gender.

Espinoza said his research could have implications for the media, which has come under fire for showing violence and other material that could have a negative effect on children.

“When I did my study with the kids, a lot of them told me how their parents agreed with me that somebody should actually try studying it,” he said. “Somebody should look into what children actually remember.”

Espinoza, a senior at Brooklyn Tech, is a social science major with aspirations of going to college at Columbia or Cornell universities, where he would like to major in economics or mathematics and minor in psychology.

He has lived in Sunnyside almost his entire life with his parents and younger sister, except for two years in middle school when he moved with his family to his father’s native Ecuador.

But right now his mind is focused on Intel. On Wednesday, the list of 300 will be trimmed down to 40 finalists who will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. where they will compete for college scholarships totaling $530,000.

“My mouth was gaping wide open and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” he said, remembering his reaction last week when his mentor Ms. Malchiodi announced his name as a semi-finalist.

“The whole day when I resumed finals, all I could think of was the Intel competition.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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