On March 25 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, 175 students competed in the final round of the city’s largest high school science and engineering research competition. The New York City Science and Engineering Fair (NYCSEF) is sponsored by the NYC Department of Education and the City University of New York. The 19 NYCSEF winners will go on to Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nevada, May 10-16, to compete for scholarships and other prizes totaling nearly $4 million.
Popular Science caught up with some of the students, whose stunning projects covered such complex topics as stem cell research, wind energy, and cancer treatments. Some of them are already packing up their projects for the trip to Nevada.
Aislinn Deely, Francis Lewis High School, The Effect of Temperature on the Galleria mellonella (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) Metamorphosis. In this project, Aislinn Deely simulated the effect of global warming on Galleria mellonella, or the Greater Wax Moth, in order to predict whether or not the insect can survive at increased temperatures. Deely says her results suggest they will not: all of the moths housed in an incubator set to temperatures similar to those predicted by global warming experts died over the course of her experiment, compared to only 35.7 percent of the moths kept at room temperature. The moths are parasitic to bees, so this could be good news for the honey business. The bad news is that a decrease in biodiversity, including the extinction of species like this one, could cause an entire food chain to collapse.
Andrew Sherlock, Hunter College High School, E. coli and Fresh Produce: Investigating the Sanitizing Potential of Antibacterial Remedies. Many of our favorite foods have suffered from bacterial contamination over the past few years, including spinach, peppers, tomatoes, peanut butter and pistachios. In response to these food contaminations, Andrew Sherlock designed his experiment to test low-cost antibacterial remedies for washing produce. He tested six different treatments including distilled water, salt water, and four different concentrations of chlorinated water, on carrots and lettuce, which were contaminated with a harmless strain of E. coli. Next time you wash your veggies at home, try rinsing them in salt water: Sherlock found that a 1 tablespoon salt, 100 milliliter mixture was more effective than two of his chlorine solutions.
Milana Fuzaylova and Gabriella Baldwin
Milana Fuzaylova and Gabriella Baldwin, Forest Hills High School, Antioxidants in Green Tea and their Effects on Diminishing Tumor Growth in Ceratopteris richardii This prize-winning project will go on to the Intel competition in Reno. In it, Milana Fuzaylova and Gabriella Baldwin tested green tea to see if it has positive impacts on plant tumors, similar to recent studies suggesting that its antioxidants may selectively inhibit cancer growth or preventing some cancers altogether in humans. They injected Ceratopteris richardii, or triangle waterfern, with a tumor called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Plants that were later treated with green tea antioxidants showed overall better growth and survivability, and an increase in antioxidant concentration resulted in increasingly less-dense plant tumors.
Alvin Zhang, Mahmoud Abdeldayem and Fouad Issa
Alvin Zhang, Mahmoud Abdeldayem and Fouad Issa, Brooklyn Technical High School, The Development of a Solar Hydrogen Electric Autonomous Underwater Vehicle This three-person team, inspired by the global energy crisis, sought to evaluate the efficiency of solar hydrogen energy. And, they tested this energy source in a novel way, examining how well this type of energy could power an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). AUVs are submersibles that can function for long periods of time without human input, but currently do not have reliable energy sources. Inspired by nature, the team modeled their AUV after the hydrodynamic Rhinoptera bonasus, the cownose ray. They designed a reactor from six proton exchange membranes (PEMs), which split water into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen, to harness hydrogen electricity. The PEMs, which were connected in series, produced 0.5 watts of power.
Jesse Martin Schneider
Jesse Martin Schneider, Benjamin N. Cardozo H.S., Micro-Patterned Hydrogels for Modular Tissue Engineering Jesse Schneider’s project was inspired by personal experience. He was born with aortic stenosis and mitral valve regurgitation, and had to have a life-saving open heart surgery. The knowledge that this surgery saved his life sparked an interest in medicine, particularly cardiothoracic surgery. During an internship and Columbia University Medical Center at the Cardiothoracic Surgery Lab, he teamed up with a medical student to create a technique for building artificial cardiac valves in vitro. One of the first steps of this project was presented at the NYCSEF. Schneider fabricated micro-patterned hydrogels which were used as a template on which to grow human umbilical cord vein cells. In the future, he hopes to create three dimensional versions that could be used to make artificial heart valves. Here, he holds up samples of his creation.
Niloy Jafar Iqbal, Stuyvesant High School, Androgen Receptor Signaling in Mammary Cancer Cells: A New Approach to the Chemotherapy of Breast Cancer Tumors Lacking Estrogen Receptors. Some breast cancer patients have cancers that do not express the estrogen receptor, which is required in some hormone therapies. Niloy Iqbal sought a new pathway for chemotherapy for these kinds of cancers by testing whether or not another kind of receptor—the androgen receptor—could be used in the same way. Iqbal used techniques like immunohistochemistry, Western Blot analysis and reporter gene assays, and was able to find treatments that activate the androgen receptor and influence cellular transcription. His project earned him a spot in Reno, where he will compete in May. He said that he hopes his research “is able to aid current patients who still wait for chemotherapy options.”
Cesario Mendez and Christopher Crawford
Cesario Mendez and Christopher Crawford, Benjamin Banneker Academy, The Perfect Bat Cesario Mendez and Christopher Crawford aimed to make a baseball bat superior to the Louisville Slugger. The team moved the center of mass closer to the pivot point, which lies right above where a players’ hands grab the bat, and redistributed the weight of the bat by increasing the thickness of the handle. Their tests showed that the bat was 7% faster than the professional model of the Slugger, and lost 2% inertia, which they say makes a hitter get to the ball faster and hit just as far. Here, they display the various stages of their bat’s construction, along with the professional model.
Julian Berger, Ramaz Upper School, Developing a Immunotherapy Melanoma Vaccine Using IL-7 Cytokine Julian Berger created a potential cancer vaccine to help fight melanoma, a serious and often fatal type of skin cancer. Berger’s vaccine emits IL-7, which is a protein that helps T-cells—the immune system’s “fighter cells”—to communicate with one another. As the IL-7 is introduced via the vaccine, it tells T-cells specific to a patient’s type of cancer to increase in both number and activity level. In his project, he genetically engineered harmless viruses to contain IL-7, and used the viruses to infect cancer cells. Nearly 90% of his cell line that was treated with the vaccine secreted IL-7. It is now being tested in trials with mice and in collaboration with other cancer treatments.
Tanvir Jahan, The Bronx High School of Science, All-Solid-State Ultraviolet Laser for LASIK Surgery Tanvir Jahan aimed to improve on the lasers used in LASIK and other eye surgeries. Unlike current lasers, which use gas, his design utilizes solid-state technology to emit an ultraviolet light—the type of light used for cornea ablation in LASIK. The beam of his laser was able to remove a very smooth layer from the surface of glass, which suggests it may be used for vision corrective surgery. His project earned him a spot in Intel’s competition in Reno.
Victor Chen and Sean Carp
Victor Chen and Sean Carp, Staten Island Technical High School, Financial Illiteracy in High School Students Financial illiteracy, or knowledge of personal and global finance and the ability to make sound financial decisions, could be partially to blame for the current global economic crisis. Victor Chen and Sean Carp set to find out the financial literacy of high school students, who are the next generation of mortgage and loan recipients. With help from experts at Merrill Lynch and the Jumpstart Coalition for Financial Literacy, the team created surveys to test the financial literacy of their peers. They surveyed 500 students from two high schools on Staten Island, ranging from freshmen to seniors. Look out for the next generation when it comes to handing out loans: while the overall literacy improved with age, the students overall received a failing grade.
Viktor Roytman, Brooklyn Technical High School, The Development and Testing of a Solar Hydrogen Electric Autonomous Aeronautic Air Sampling Vehicle (sHe-AAAV) Like his classmates Alvin Zhang, Mahmoud Abdeldayem and Fouad Issa, Viktor Roytman’s project harnessed solar energy to create hydrogen electricity to power a vehicle, the design of which was inspired by a manta ray. But, his craft was built in order to test air samples and remove dust from the air. To actually remove the dust from the air, the craft was outfitted with several cyclone precipitators, which are used to take smoke and dust out of the air.
Faye Elgart and Emma Almon
Faye Elgart and Emma Almon, Hunter College High School, Fuel Efficiency of Biodiesel versus Conventional Fuel Sources. This duo tested the efficiency of lab-synthesized biodiesel, which they made themselves using canola oil, against naphtha, a high-octane fossil fuel, and used ethyl alcohol as a control. They tested the three fuels using a simple calorimetry set-up, measuring the heat that each gave off as it burned. While the biodiesel performed significantly worse than the other fuels, Elgart and Almon suspect this may be due to the fact that they lacked the expensive machinery needed to properly refine their lab-made canola fuel, and suggested that a future project could involve finding a cheaper and simpler way to refine biodiesel without the use of expensive equipment. Said Elgart, “The simple fact that we are running out of the resources that fuel our cars, heat our homes, and power our world demands further research into alternate fuel sources.”
Hamaad Hassan, Sheepshead Bay High School, The Study of Three-Dimensional Random Close Packing of Spheres. Granular materials have an unusual property: they can’t be easily classified as either a liquid or a solid. Pour them out of a container, and they flow like a liquid. But, when no forces act on the material, it is stable like a solid. Granular materials are also hard to pack, but improvement in this area could have applications in sound proofing and electromagnetic wave-proofing. In his project, Hamaad Hassan tried to determine how spheres like the ones pictured with him here could be packed as densely as possible. His research won him a spot at Reno in May.
Will Calhoun and Jake Saphier
William Calhoun and Jacob Saphier, High School For Math Science and Engineering, How to Successfully Build and Integrate Wind Turbine Technology into Society? Will Calhoun and Jake Saphier decided to study wind energy for their project to better understand why it isn’t already in widespread use, and to raise awareness about the technology. They built a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) out of recyclable materials, and tested it in a number of ways including measuring how wind disruptions affected power output to determine whether VAWTs can function properly in urban environments. They also established differences between VAWT and horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT) to determine which is better (they prefer VAWT technology because it has a lower negative impact on wildlife).
Pukar Hamal, Forest Hills High School, Investigation of neuronal development and diversification in left/right asymmetric head neurons of Caenorhabditis elegans with perspective to stem cell research. Pukar Hamal investigated the neuronal development and diversification in Caenorhabditis elegans, which is a nematode species that is commonly used as a research model for cellular differentiation, or how cells become specialized in a certain role in the body. Hamal was able to take non-neuronal Caenorhabditis elegans cells and transform them into neurons. The findings have applications in stem cell research. “There are so many neurological and developmental disorders that have plagued us and it is important to understand what leads to these problems,” said Hamal.