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New York City
March 2002

NY Academy of Science & Cuny Showcase HS Science Projects
By Marie Holmes

Hundreds of high-school students carrying giant pieces of posterboard traipsed through the gates of the City College of New York recently to take part in the 65th annual New York City Science and Engineering Fair. High-school seniors presented the results of months of sophisticated research with professional mentors while a number of 9th and 10th grade students arrived with elaborate project proposals in hand, searching for mentors of their own. A total of 861 students from public, private and parochial schools in all five boroughs competed for over $180,000 in prizes and awards.

While the $10,000 grand prize was certainly an incentive to participate in the science fair, most students were motivated mainly by the opportunity to showcase their work and expand their educational opportunities.

Howard Schneider, a science teacher at Curtis High School in Staten Island, came to serve as a judge as well as to show his support for students from his science research class who were there presenting their projects. As Freshman, Curtis students have the opportunity to participate in a school-wide science fair, and students with promising projects are then encouraged to continue their work in the research course. Students representing Curtis High School at the science fair were there with “the best projects in the class,” Schneider said proudly.

The projects were organized by topic and ranged from behavioral science and botany to zoology. The students, smartly dressed, stood beside their projects, ready and willing to explain their scientific processes to judges and passers-by.

Anna Wong, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science, worked with Dr. Becky Gee at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus to research the effectiveness of vanadia-tungsten catalyst, a substance that proved useful in accelerating the breakdown of harmful airborne substances. Although Wong says that she plans to be a humanities major, her experience working with an x-ray difractometer will certainly make her college application stand out from the rest.

Rosanna Reda, a 10th grader at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, presented a project proposal on the relation between a woman’s lifestyle and her risk for developing breast cancer. Roda’s background research has already led her to believe that high melatonin levels resulting from exposure to light at nighttime increase a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer. She hopes to study the effects of other risk factors, such as stress and alcohol consumption, and to continue her project under the guidance of a mentor.

“I want to educate women about prevention,” explained Reda, who hopes to become “a breast cancer consultant and to teach women to educate women.” She believes that “education is the best prevention.”

Monica Vazirani, an 11th grader at Franklin Knight Lane High School, was also at the science fair to present a project proposal and search for a mentor. She has been collecting information about possible genetic causes for patterns of adolescent behavior. Like most scientific discoveries, Vazirani’s project began with a troublesome question: Why do parents seem to understand the motivations behind teenage behavior while teenagers themselves often don’t? Vazirini began to suspect that genetics might play a role in human behavioral

and psychological development after having learned about the spread of disease through the human genome. “If diseases could be passed on by genetics, what if behavior has something to do with genetics?” Vazirani asked.

As the students were setting up their displays in the auditorium, volunteer judges met in teams and discussed the day’s task over a catered breakfast. Over 220 scientists and engineers, had volunteered to serve as judges for the Science Fair.

For the second year in a row, MIT alumni in the New York area served as judges. Approximately 20 MIT alums were in attendance that morning, said Stacy Nemeroff, the alumna who organized the group. “It’s a way for them to
reconnect with what excites them most – science and technology,” she explained.

Paul Sirotto, of Sun Chemical in New Jersey, has been a Science Fair judge for “a long time.”

“I love to judge,” says Sirotto, “The kids have some novel ideas. You see really interesting presentations.”#

Marie Holmes is an intern at Education Update and a senior at Columbia University.


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