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Little Neck, Forest Hills girls vie for top prize in U.S. contest

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Olivia Hu, 17, of Little Neck, and Xiaoyun Linda Yin, 17, of Forest Hills, both attend Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan along with fellow finalists Timothy Chang and Katherine Banks. The city's fifth finalist, Artem Serganov, 17, is a senior at Bronx High School of Science.They number among 40 finalists nationwide who will for 10 top honors spots in Washington, D.C., in March, and the grand prize winner will take home a $100,000 scholarship provided by the Intel Foundation. The California-based computer technology firm is to disburse some $530,000 in scholarships, as well as new notebook computers, to finalists. Yin's project examined, in lay terms, "why problems early in childhood can lead to depression later," she said. In Yin's project, "The Effects of Maternal Separation on Adult Neurogenesis in the Dentate Gyrus of Mice," tissue collected from the hippocampus sections of the brains of mice separated from their parents during the developmental phase demonstrated an increased number of neurons at abnormal locations, leading her to believe that a similar process in people could lead to abnormal brain development and cause psychological disorders like anxiety and depression.Hu said she was still processing the news that she was a finalist. "My knees are shaking," she said.Her project, "Cerebral Lateralization in Chinese-English Bilingualism," examined the areas of the brain that were most active as her subjects, Chinese natives living in the United States for less than three years, gained proficiency in English. When read, Chinese characters are processed using the right hemisphere of the brain, whereas English involves the left, she explained."I'll probably study psychology or something in that field," Hu said of her plans for the future.Anne Maxwell, Hu's advisor for the project, said the students select their own topics based on readings from scientific and medical journals. The Intel competition is sometimes called the "junior Nobel Prize," owing to the fact that six Intel finalists have gone on to win that prize. Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, owns and has administered the competition since its inception in 1942. Intel took over sponsorship of the contest from Westinghouse in 1998.The five New York City students are one third of the state's finalists, which at 15 also is the biggest showing of any state in the nation."Reaching this level for a student competition is really an achievement," said Stuyvesant Principal Stanley Teitel.New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein came out to toast the five last Wednesday after their names were formally announced."Today's event is truly remarkable," Klein said, adding that this is the first year that New York City has had five finalists for the competition.Playing up the role of immigrants in the city's history and population, and referring to Yin and Serganov, Klein said, "Several [of the students] have parents who are immigrants or are themselves immigrants."The 40 national finalists were selected from an initial pool of 1,260 applicants, which was narrowed down to 300 semifinalists Jan. 16. Francis Lewis High School and St. Francis Prep, both in Fresh Meadows, each had two semifinalists. The winners are to be announced during a week-long, all-expenses-paid event in Washington, D.C., in March.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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