By Jano Tantongco
The Science Scholars program at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington has been bolstered with a multimillion dollar series of improvements that are paving the way for students to engage with science at higher levels.
Paul Paino, research director for the school, holds decades of science research under his belt and has helped develop the program, which introduces 50-60 incoming freshmen into a track of AP classes, and a stint in a professional lab.
“They’re completely immersed in research while they’re taking these other classes,” he said.
Touring the new molecular biology laboratory – which was completed this month as part of a larger multimillion-dollar project – Paino showed off several new pieces of equipment including a microfuge, an autoclave and a thermocycler machine. In addition to the labs, renovations have been made to each of the laboratory classrooms, from biology to physics.
Jim Medina, science chairman for St. Anthony’s, said he comes to the school feeling blessed every day.
“We’re constantly speaking with the teachers to see what they need,” Medina said. “We’ve been blessed with the ability, for the most part, to say ‘yes’ to whatever materials that they need, whatever equipment that they need.”
One of the students that went through the program, 17-year-old senior Nicholas DeFrancisco, has went on to work in the biology department at Molloy College in Rockville Center for two consecutive summers.
The experience at Molloy “taught me how to really work on a higher level,” he said. “AP Bio can only prepare you for so much.”
DeFrancisco’s internship at Molloy stemmed from the Science Scholars program’s research portion, which sees students venture outside of St. Anthony’s to intern in professional environments. At Molloy, he how certain enzymes on stem cells can prompt them to either have boost or a reduction in immune system response.
“Once I had the opportunity, I was going to jump on it,” DeFrancisco said. “This experience has been one of the best of my life because I’ve learned so much.”
Another St. Anthony’s senior, Christopher Koch, interned over the summer with the Stern Group of Nanophotonics and Magnetism at Northwestern University in Chicago. There, he studied the magneto-optic Kerr effect, which helped him to learn how light reflects on magnetic surfaces. He called the experience a “defining part of my four years” at St. Anthony’s.
Koch said the nine-week experience allowed him to live in Chicago, which was new for him since he never lived outside his house.
Being thrust into the professional environment at Northwestern, he added, “I spent most of my time just reading, trying to understand what was going on around me.”
St. Anthony’s seniors Hien Ba Nguyen and Trinhn Huynh worked together on creating robots using the Lego platform to solve Rubik’s cubes and clean keyboards with ultraviolet light.
The two have known each other since fourth grade. They each separately immigrated from Vietnam in 11th grade, with Huyhn moving to Ohio and Nguyen moving to Texas. To finish their education together, they came together again at St. Anthony’s in the research program.
“This year, I hope we do great together,” Nguyen said.
They are looking forward to the Intel International Science and Fair competition in May, when they’ll compete with their robotics projects. Last year, they entered the competition with the UV sterilizer. This year, they aim to make it even better.
“With sufficient material and resources, we can improve it, [make it] more energy efficient,” Huynh said.
“Exposing human skin to ultraviolet light is not good, we all know that. We should leave the dangerous stuff for the robot to do,” Nguyen said. “Thanks to St. Anthony’s high school, I really have the ability to work on what I need, and work with the school that I want, to fulfill my dreams.”
Also part of the program are seniors Gabriella Russo and Ingrid Oprea, who worked over the summer with the Center For Environmental Research And Coastal Oceans Monitoring in West Sayville, affiliated with Molloy College.
They tested the effects of differing pH levels on horseshoe crabs, both in a lab setting and in the natural environment.
“We found really interesting results,” Oprea said. “The eggs in the environment still hadn’t hatched, so they’re still development. The one’s in the laboratory grew a lot.”
Russo said that the creatures have been around for 350 million years.
“Their environment is not their ideal setting,” she said. “So, what we were trying to find in the laboratory is what is their ideal setting.”
They determined that those in a pH of 8 grew the fastest and had the most energy. They added that due to increased carbon dioxide in the environment, the world’s oceans have grown slightly more acidic, making it more difficult for the time-tested animals to survive.
St. Anthony’s Principal Bro. Gary Cregan said he’s inspired by, and hopeful for, the students in the Science Scholars program.
“There’s such negativity about the future of America, the future of the young. The science research program is tapping into the all of the best that exists in teenagers,” Cregan said. “They’re so desirous to learn, not for their own pride, but because they want to learn so that they can be of service to humanity.”