Francis Lewis teens win spot on Siemens list

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The three Francis Lewis High School students who were named Siemens semifinalists last week are hoping their science project could change the world.

High school juniors Sunny Aggarwal of Floral Park; Indroneil Roy of Elmhurst; and Tanmai Shah, also of Floral Park, researched how to better control light using a small mirror, which would allow for more efficient solar panels and other energy-generating devices. Their project landed them the title of semifinalists in the Siemens Competition in Science, Math and Technology — an elite contest for which 1,329 groups applied and 300 were chosen.

“If we can mass produce these mirrors, we could help solve the world’s energy crisis,” Shah said.

Siemens judges announced the semifinalists Oct. 22, and Francis Lewis HS received $1,000 because of the award. The Fresh Meadows school had more semifinalists than any other public high school in the city.

“That says a lot about us because you’re up against specialized high schools,” Principal Musa Ali Shama said. “There’s a real commitment to excellence on the part of our teachers and students. Parents have come to the conclusion that they don’t want their kids traveling two hours to Bronx Science. They want them to come here.”

Francis Lewis was one of two Queens schools to be named in the contest, and three students from the Yeshiva University HS for Girls in Holliswood were also semifinalists. Helene Sonenberg, Rachel Shapiro and Ayelet Abelow were the winners from Yeshiva.

Beginning last spring, the Francis Lewis students spent their free time, and almost all of their waking hours in the summer, in the Photonics Laboratory at Queens College working with Dr. Vinod M. Menon, a physics professor, to conduct the research for the paper they submitted to the Siemens competition entitled “Quasiperio­dic Photonic Crystals for Multi-Wavelength Reflectors and Emitters.”

The students used layers of different arrangements of chemical compounds to reflect and bend light so the only light created was white light, which has the most energy of the various kinds of light. For example, white light is used in halogen lamps.

“It’s amazing — these 15-year-olds are trying to help with the energy crisis,” said Francine Weissman, a science research teacher who mentored the students. Weissman coordinates Francis Lewis’ Math Science Institute, a four-year research program for about 150 academically gifted students.

While Aggarwal, Roy and Shah did not place as finalists in the competition, they are continuing their research and Weissman plans to help them to apply to other competitions, including the New York City Science and Engineering Fair in March and the Intel Science Competition next year.

“We’re up against specialized schools and private schools with large amounts of funding, and it’s amazing schools like us with very little funding are able to compete,” Weissman said. “It’s really a credit to the kinds of students and teachers we have. Our kids really are the elite of the elite of science research.”

Francis Lewis has long had students placing in the Siemens Competition, and last year two students from Francis Lewis HS were awarded a $30,000 scholarship from the Siemens Corp. as third-place nationwide winners in the Science, Math and Technology Competition.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:17 pm, October 10, 2011
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