What else can be said after Schreiber boasts nine Intel semifinalists, then three finalists and now a first place winner for Schreiber High School in this prestigious contest? That first place winner is Viviana Risca whose winning science research project encoded and later, decoded, a test message into a strand of DNA. In addition to mounds of accolades and having many doors now opened to her, Viviana's first place prize is a $100,000 scholarship.
The idea for Viviana's project began when she started to work with Dr. Carter Bancroft of Mount Sinai who was contemplating DNA's information carrying ability. "Why shouldn't we take advantage of DNA as an information-carrying medium?" he asked, and the project took shape, with Viviana as part of the research team. Working at Mount Sinai's School of Medicine, she combined the text-encoded DNA strand, which had two special markers, with other similar strands. The only way to decode that data was to know the secret marker sequence, making this "a secure method of sending secret information," says Viviana.
What's even more remarkable about Viviana is that she came from Roumania almost eight years ago knowing very little English. Her mother works in the computer industry, and her father does mechanical design for the semi-conductor industry and holds several patents. Viviana is contemplating a research career that combines computer science and biology.
When reached for comment her ecstatic parents said, "We are very proud and very happy. It is a dream come true. Viviana worked very hard and wanted to win a prize but 1st place exceeds all expectations. We're also happy to contribute to the prestige of a great community like Port Washington, we've been here for three and half years and love it ... It is also great that the research program got the recognition it deserves."
An ebullient Schreiber Principal Dr. Sid Barish said of Viviana: "She is one of the most extraordinary students to attend Schreiber High School. Her first place finish in the Intel competition, placing her first in the nation, speaks volumes about the depth of her knowledge in science, but that is just the beginning. Viviana brings similar talents in writing, art and communications. Her opportunity to accomplish great things is limitless. This is a true Renaissance woman."
Viviana's advisor, Schreiber Science Research Program director Mrs. Phyllis Serfaty is "elated." "They made a very wise choice," she said, adding, "she's a very special young lady who's been devoted to her research for the last four years. She's a very organized and dedicated student."
And what does the young woman of the hour have to say. "I'm very honored to have won this distinction and to have all of my hard work recognized. I'm incredibly thankful for all the help I've received from my teachers, parents and friends. I'm very grateful to Intel for giving me this great week and such a great scholarship, " says Viviana. She's especially grateful to her mentor Dr. Bancroft for letting her work with him on such an important project that has proven to be such a great idea. (She wants to reiterate that it was Dr. Bancroft's idea.)
Summing up in a simple way, Vivivana remarked, "I'm very happy."