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After spending hundreds of hours researching, analyzing data and performing experiments, 21 Queens high school students were among 300 students chosen last week from 1,581 applicants nationwide to become semifinalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition.
Often considered the "junior Nobel Prize," the Intel STS recognizes students and their schools every year for their individual research ability, originality and creative thinking in science and math.
In Queens, St. Francis Prep and Townsend Harris high schools had three semifinalists each, Francis Lewis High School had two semifinalists, and Benjamin Cardozo and Newtown high schools each had one semifinalist.
Of the other 11 semifinalists from Queens, four attend the Bronx High School of Science, six attend Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and one attends Hunter College High School in Manhattan.
Stuyvesant had 19 semifinalists altogether, the most out of any high school in the nation.
"It's an incredible amount of work that not just the semifinalists, but all of the research students put in," said Michael Sass, a chemistry teacher and research program coordinator at Francis Lewis in Fresh Meadows. "These students really come out with a positive learning experience and end up doing work that's equivalent to college- or even graduate-student level."
At Francis Lewis, as well as many other Intel-award-winning high schools, students enter into a selective three-year research course at the beginning of their sophomore year. With the guidance of a teacher, they do research over the Internet at libraries on a specific scientific topic in which they are interested.
Once students have honed in and become experts on a particular topic, they contact researchers at local institutions by phone or e-mail to ask if they would be willing to serve as their mentor. When students have found a suitable mentor, they begin working with them on an individual project, sometimes within their high school, but more often at the mentor's research institution.
"I had to travel a lot. I took the subway 1 1/2 hours each way," said Monika Laszkowska, 17, an Intel STS semifinalist from St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows who did her research project on the p53 tumor suppressor, a gene involved in cell death, at Columbia University. "But it was a great experience, and the time was well-spent."
Like many other students who entered the Intel STS, Laszkowska worked full time at her mentor's research laboratory during the summers after her sophomore and junior years. During the school year, she went to her lab when she could, after school and during weekends.
"It's sort of like a boot camp where we're training them to be like grad students," said James Cervino, a graduate student himself who helps out part time with the science research program at St. Francis Prep. "They work harder than undergraduate students."
Erwin Wang, 17, another St. Francis Prep semifinalist who did his project at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, said working with researchers made him appreciate the perseverance that is necessary to make advances in science. Wang's project was on a gene related to prostate cancer.
"To see them keep at it, to try to treat cancer from every different aspect, is amazing," Wang said.
Each Intel STS semifinalist receives $1,000 in recognition of his or her scientific achievement, and the students' schools receive $1,000 per semifinalist to support science and math programs.
This year, young women represented 43 percent of the total applicants from 47 states, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., who ranged in age from 15 to 19.
From the 300 semifinalists, 40 finalists will be announced on Jan. 29. Those students will take an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they will be judged and compete for college scholarships totaling more than $500,000. The final winners will be announced at a black-tie banquet on March 11.
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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