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4 Townsend Harris teens reach Intel science contest semi-finals

While not the typical cardboard cut-out science fair experiment, she knew from the beginning there would be more work required of her than ever.Her work paid off. Zheng, along with three of her fellow classmates at Townsend Harris in Flushing. were selected as semi-finalists in a nose-to-the-grindstone competition that in recent years has become known as the "Junior Nobel Prize," or more commonly the Intel Science Talent Search.Her work, and that of her peers, won each of them and the high school $1,000 each as a partial reward for their grueling research.The rest of the reward is the prestige, the students said. Another of the semi-finalists, Sangsoo Kim, 17, of Fresh Meadows, said he has decided to apply to Harvard after his project was recognized despite the fact he was already accepted at Cornell University.His project explored the regulation of human melanoma cell susceptibility to apoptosis through the suppression of Dynmain-2. In other words, anti-cancer research.Should any of them make it to the finals and win, the top prize is a $100,000 four-year scholarship. But even at the semi-finalist level, teachers say there is much to be proud of."This was more work than you could ever imagine," said Assistant Principal Susan Brustein. "And you have to love it. If you don't love what you're doing, it's a really bad experience. It's hard work if you love it. It's impossible if you don't."In preparation for their research, each student needed to recruit a mentor in their respective fields to collaborate on their project.Recruits included professors from Queens College, Mt. Sinai Hospital and Columbia University who help the students with their extensive research so they can eventually formulate a 20-page paper.Students take a research class elective in their sophomore year and by the time they are ready to hand in the finished project, "they can explain what they've done intuitively at this point to someone who's never worked on what they've done," Brustein said.The dedication to the project is all-consuming, students said, often requiring them to stay at school until midnight.All the students worked on the projects all through their junior year, including summers, with many working up until the final day the project is due.The sacrifice was particularly difficult for Kim, who had a two-hour commute every day to and from the Columbia University radiology department."I think you have to be dedicated to science in the beginning to actually opt for science research during your sophomore year," Kim said. "We're all shooting for areas within the scientific field, regardless of whether our project has to do with our career."Maryam Ibrakim Sultan, 17, of Woodside said her experience with her professor at Mt. Sinai was one she will not soon forget."She was amazing," she said. "She helped me every step of the way, but by helping me, she was making me think for myself so I really understood what working in a lab was like. It was a really good experience."She worked with a doctor for her project entitled "Detecting Novel Submicroscopic Chromosomal Abnormalities in Autism."Bayside's 16-year-old Christie Ching-Lin Sze also advanced to the semi-finals for her project entitled "The Effect of Fibroblast Growth Factors on the Proliferation and Differentiation of Olfactory Epithelial Cells."She said the effort she put forth in her project actually made her change her career choice toward science."Before this I was planning on doing something in economics," she said. "I wasn't really planning on doing research for college, but it was worthwhile because I helped contribute to the scientific field. I'm considering in majoring in biological science now."Two 17-year-old St. Francis Prep seniors - Michelle Iocolano and Sylviane Boddy- were named semifinalists for making headway in battling degenerative diseases.Nicole Elizabeth Lam, 17, of Sunnyside, who is a student at Bronx High School of Science, captured a spot on the semifinalist list for her research into the microscopic brains of the fruit fly.Yi Cui, 18, a Bronx Science student from Floral Park, was recognized for work in skimming.Five students from Queens enrolled at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan were selected as well. The semi-finalists from the school were Xiaotian Chen, 18, of Jamaica Estates; Byron Joseph Cheung, 17, of Fresh Meadows; Christine Flora Lai, 17, of Bayside; Longyin Li, 17 of Rego Park; and Steve Teng, 17, of Rego Park.Representatives from Stuyvesant did not return calls for additional information.Reach reporter Scott Sieber at news@timesledger.com or at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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