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Accolades are due Great Neck's seven high school seniors who were named semifinalists in the 2007 Intel Science Talent Search. The Great Neck Public Schools had the largest number of semifinalists of any Long Island district. North High's semifinalists are Zachary Hollander, Benjamin Leibowicz, Joanna Melnick, and Debbie Yee. Semifinalists from South High are Robert Kim, Anna Kurtz, and Victor Wang. Intel, formerly known as the Westinghouse competition, is now considered the most prestigious high school science competition in the country.

Semifinalists were chosen from 1,705 entrants representing over 487 high schools here and abroad. Each of the 300 students chosen will receive a $1,000 award. In addition, schools that placed a semifinalist will receive $1,000 per semifinalist to support their science, math, and engineering education programs. All semifinalists and their teachers will also be honored with certificates of merit.

The winning-project descriptions that follow are excerpted from the written abstracts that were a required part of each student's research project.

Zachary Hollander's project was "Genetic and Environmental Causes of Variation in Size and Growth Form in Dwarf and Normal Stature Pitch Pines, Pinus rigida, in Controlled and Field Experiments." He explained that determining the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors to phenotypic variation is critical for understanding the evolutionary ecology of plant species. Through the use of transplantation and fire simulation experiments, he examined sources of variation in growth rate and form in a globally rare dwarf population of pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and surrounding populations of normal-stature pitch pines on Long Island. His study suggests that variation in dwarf and standard pitch pines may be due to environmental factors rather than genetic differentiation. The preservation of this rare population depends upon conservation of its habitat. North High science research teacher Alan Schorn was faculty advisor to Zachary, and to the three other semifinalists whose project descriptions follow.

Benjamin Leibowicz's project was titled, "The Tolman VII Solution and the Upper Limit to the Central Density of a Neutron Star." He stated that neutron stars are the densest stars in the universe. The upper limit to neutron-star density is significant because it serves as the upper boundary to the density of all matter in the universe located outside black holes. His study determined that the Tolman VII solution to the equations of stellar structure establishes the upper limit to neutron-star central density. He developed computer simulations to compare the Tolman VII solution to the predictions of proposed stellar models.

Joanna Melnick's project was "Variation in Observed Pulse Period Support Existence of Planets Orbiting Pulsar PSR B0329+54." She explained that pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars that emit radio signals at very precise time intervals. Observed variations in pulsar timing have allowed the discovery of several pulsar properties and systems. Her experiment was to determine the likelihood of a planetary system around pulsar PSR B0329+54. A theoretical analysis of the data supported the existence of two planets orbiting this particular pulsar, one with an orbital period of 16.8 years, the other with 2.86 years.

Debbie Yee's project was "Using Thiol-functionalized Metallic Nanoparticles to Increase the Efficiency of the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cell." She wrote that the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel (PEM) fuel cell shows great promise as an alternative energy source to fossil fuels since it has a high efficiency and is environmentally friendly, producing water as its only byproduct. Her project used Gold and palladim nanoparticle catalysts to increase the power output of a single PEM fuel cell. She synthesized the nanoparticles and deposited them onto Nafion, the electrolyte membrane in the fuel cell. The Gold and palladium yielded a 30 and 10 percent increase in power output over the control, respectively.

Robert Kim's project was "Understanding Transcription Factors in Sugar Beets: Differential Expression and Conservation Between Related Germplasms and Genetic Mapping." Sugar beets are useful for their sucrose (natural sugar). To improve beet production and disease defenses, it is necessary to understand molecular biology, including control of gene expression. Robert examined different stages of growth and developed and mapped genetic markers for use in marker-assisted breeding. His project was exploratory in nature and generated novel data that may be useful for future research. South High science research teacher Carol Hersh was Robert's faculty advisor.

Anna Kurtz's project was titled, "The Effect of Long-term Musical Training on Short-term Memory." She explained that past research has suggested differences in the cognitive functions, specifically memory, between musicians and non-musicians. While some studies have proposed physiological explanations involving the reorganization of brain structure based on experience, others suggest cognitive explanation, claiming that musicians inherently group information, thus increasing short-term memory capacities. Anna's study provides a measure for behavioral evidence of each theory through a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation of various memory tasks, testing working memory and short-term memory. Her subjects were South High School students. Musicians performed significantly better on verbal working-memory tasks. Psychology research teacher Michelle Sorise was Anna's faculty advisor.

Victor Wang's project was "Seeing the Phase of Light: An Experimental Investigation of Doughnut-shaped Laser Beams Produced by a Few-Mode Optical Fiber." He explained that optical vortices appear doughnut shaped, with a distinct spiral-phase structure. Such doughnut-shaped beams of unknown properties were produced from a specially used optical fiber. These beams were then analyzed using a purpose-built interferometer and results were compared to interference patterns of a known vortex. Victor concluded that the doughnut-shaped beam produced from the optical fiber is an optical vortex, although its phase order charge still needs to be determined. Carol Hersh was his faculty advisor.

Intel, begun in 1942, is a comprehensive competition that evaluates the applicant in many areas of involvement. The research-project report is just one of several criteria used to select semifinalists. Each talent search applicant is also required to submit a school transcript, standardized test scores, records of community service, extracurricular activities, and faculty recommendations.

Students must submit a lengthy written report (including appendices, tables, and charts) on an independent science-research project. They continually revise their work, often beginning more than a year prior to the competition. Applicants are judged on their research ability, scientific originality, and creative thinking. Research projects cover all disciplines of science, including behavioral science, biochemistry, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, medicine and health, and physics. Entries are reviewed and judged by top scientists from a variety of disciplines.

Commenting on this year's semifinalists, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett said, "We live in an era when excellence in math and science is critical to not only individual success, but to our nation's ability to compete. Intel brings together exceptional students who embody the American tradition of innovation, and whose ideas and advances will help shape the world we live in for generations to come."

Many Intel alumni hold the world's most coveted science and math honors, including Nobel Prizes, National Medals of Science, MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, and Fields Medals.


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