In many ways, Maria Renee Milcetic of Whitestone is a typical teenager. She is a forward for the Bayside Traveling Soccer Team, has covered the walls of her room with music posters and proudly displays the cards she recently received for her 18th birthday.
But the St. Francis Prep senior has another side: she is the author of a complex biological study called, The Effects of Alpha-Synuclein on Neuromelanin Formation: Implications for Parkinsons Disease.
Last week, Milcetic learned that she and her school would be awarded $1,000 each for her study. Milcetic is one of the 300 semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, the oldest pre-college science competition in the country.
New York City high school students performed extremely well in the competition with 36 qualifying as semifinalists. Queens did even better: 19 of those semifinalists are either Queens residents or attend Queens schools.
Milcetic and Moon Hee Lee, 18, are the two semifinalists from Whitestone. On Jan. 30, the two will learn whether or not they have been selected as one of the 40 finalists around the country. After the 40 are given an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., the ultimate winners will be announced on March 11.
This is money I really didnt expect to earn, said Lee, speaking of the prize money. Lee attends Stuyvesant HS next to Ground Zero. Lee said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the aftermath distracted her from her project.
Stuyvesant, the Manhattan public school powerhouse, produced 15 semifinalists, second only to Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland. Because of the terrorist attacks that damaged the school, the contest deadline at Stuyvesant was extended by two weeks.
Despite her various honors, which extend from running her schools science Olympiad team to editing its biomedical publication, Lee spoke humbly about her project, titled Combining Orientations to Identify Letters.
The paper that I sent wasnt really to my satisfaction, she said. The only person who thinks I can make it [as a finalist] is my psychology teacher, who advised the project.
Lee struggled to describe her project, which concluded that little detectors in our brain are selective towards orientation, but with real life objects, they are unselective.
Lee immigrated with her father, Sang Chuo, and her mother, Youn Ok, to the United States from Korea 10 years ago. After living for two years in Illinois, the Lee family came to Whitestone.
Although she initially was surprised to find Whitestone so quiet, Lee said she has learned to enjoy it as a respite from her school in Manhattan.
Coming back to Whitestone everyday is like a sanctuary, she said.
Like Lee, Milcetic was humbled to be a semifinalist.
I was very surprised, she said. Its a very, very hard thing to win.
Milcetic, who wants to be a pediatrician, took an interest in Parkinsons disease when she learned that her great grandmother had suffered from the disease. Working with Dr. Kristin E. Larsen of Columbia Presbyterians Neurology Department, Milcetic focused on the effects of a protein on the body chemistry of someone with Parkinsons.
Milcetic developed a strong interest in biology in seventh grade, when she began studying the circulatory and respiratory systems.
I found it so much fun, she said. It was so interesting.
Flushing also did well in the competition with Vivian Ho, 17, a Stuyvesant student, and Wanqing Li, 17, a Brooklyn Tech student, becoming semifinalists.
Ho, who runs sound effects on many of her schools shows, studied musical perception using a computer program to compare how 10 people trained in music and 10 people untrained in music picked up tones.
Novices seemed to care more about simper things, such as pitch, Ho concluded.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2002 Community News Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not TimesLedger.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to TimesLedger.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.