10 Huntington-Area Students Named Siemens Semifinalists

By Connor Beach

Students from five Huntington-area high schools have been named semifinalists in the 2017 Siemens Competition in math, science and technology.

The 10 students joined a group of 491 semifinalists from across the country who were selected from a total pool of 1,860 individual and team projects.

The Siemens Competition, launched by the Siemens Foundation in 1999, provides high school students with the chance to vie for college scholarships by submitting individual or team research projects in the fields of math and science.

Cold Spring Harbor High School senior Thomas McGee submitted an individual project on the effects of stimulating brain activity in mice that he worked on as part of a summer fellowship through Stony Brook University.

“I was the first person from my school to receive the placement so I saw it as a great award, but I also saw it as an opportunity to improve the school and encourage other students to apply for this competition and get involved in research,” McGee said.

Junior Katie Sierra from Northport High School also worked on her submission over the summer at Stony Brook, but her topic examined the effects of plastic chemicals on marine environments.

“I chose this topic because I have done ecology-related topics in the past in the science research program at Northport High School. It was amazing to be honored in such a prestigious competition,” she said.

Jacqueline Balestrieri, a sophomore from St. Anthony’s High School, received the semifinalist recognition for her research proposal entitled “Mitigation of Titanium Dioxide (Ti02) stress and characterization of a punitive brassinosteroid insensitive-1 gene in lemna minor.” She said she spent around 300 hours in the lab, and an additional 150 hours editing before her project was ready to submit.

“Since I can remember, I have always been interested in questions that people didn’t have the answers to,” Balestrieri said.

Half Hollow Hills High School East produced six semifinalists including senior Kasim Waqar who said, “It is a great honor to be honored in the Siemens competition after working so hard on my research paper. I have great respect for research competitions because they encourage young scientists to improve their communication skills.”

His classmates, senior Danielle Luntz, junior Kavya Rao and sophomore Tong Ye, also received semifinalist status.

Two of the Half Hollow Hills East students, juniors Arooba Ahmed and Jiachen Lee, together with junior Jillian Parker of Half Hollow Hills High School West had their submission selected to advance past the semifinal round.

The three students worked together to study the role of a protein called CCDC11 during the process of cell division. The students’ project could have important implications in fighting cancer, neurodegenerative diseases or the spread of viruses because the function of this protein was previously unknown.

“We are ecstatic to have been selected for this honor from a group of such competitive projects,” Parker said. “We are nervous for the next step, yet overjoyed and excited to see where our research will take us.”

The Half Hollow Hills High School students will continue on to one of six regional competitions this month where their research will once again be judged for the chance to advance to the national finals in Washington D.C. on Dec. 4-5. All regional finalists receive at least $1,000 worth of scholarship money from the Siemens Foundation. A total of $500,000 will be up for grabs for those teams that advance to the national finals, including two top prizes of $100,000.