March Issue
March 09, 2015

New York students excel again in science competition

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Ossining Teachers Association’s Angelo Piccirillo, far left, and Valerie Holmes, far right, with students in the high school’s year-round science research program.
Caption: Ossining Teachers Association's Angelo Piccirillo, far left, and Valerie Holmes, far right, with students in the high schoo's year-round science research program.

It's an impressive feat: In the world-renowned Intel Science competition, New York schools have more semifinalists than any other state. Ninety. That's nearly one-third of the total nationwide — and almost twice as many as California's 46.

Of New York's 90 semifinalists, 84 attend public high schools and six attend private schools. None of the semifinalists attend charter schools. All eight finalists are public school students and will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. in March, where they will compete for more than $1 million in awards.

Competition for the Intel Science Talent Search is steep: Of the 1,844 high school seniors who entered projects, 300 were announced as semifinalists in January and 40 were named national finalists.

New York's eight finalists include four from Long Island, two from New York City, and two from Westchester County. Their projects include research into whether the Earth's climate could cause unexpected bird migrations; investigating possible correlations between depression symptoms and neuroanatomy variations; and developing a new computerized technique to search for white dwarf binary star systems.

A number of the students have been working on their projects throughout their high school years, guided by teachers and scientist mentors in the field and attending programs like SUNY's Stony Brook University's summer research programs. In fact, 19 of the state's semifinalists this year attended Stony Brook's summer research programs.

The other common denominator for success is district support and commitment. Just ask Angelo Piccirillo, one of two full-time science research teachers at Ossining High School, home to five semifinalists — second only to the Bronx High School of Science.

"You really can't do it unless the district is behind you," said Piccirillo, whose high-needs school has had 53 semifinalists since 2001. "There's no magic trick. You have to build it slowly and have patience."

Ossining's program began in 1998 with three students — all of whom dropped the program, Piccirillo said. Today, the program has 98 students, who work year-round, during lunch periods, after school and through the summer.

Piccirillo is especially proud of his school's success because it's certainly not a specialty science school. "We're just a regular school with a lot of challenges, but I think that says a lot about what we do," he said. "Our district believes in it and has never wavered in its support."

"Obviously behind each of these outstanding students are extraordinary educators and mentors," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "The fact is, despite years of chronic underfunding, New York's public education system is among the very best. Just think what we could do with a renewed dedication to equitable funding statewide."

New York state's Intel finalists

John F. Kennedy High School
Samuel Epstein
"The Effects of the Modulation of TOR Signaling and Microbial Exposure on Feeding Behavior in Drosophila melanogaster"

Jericho Senior High School
Ien Li
"Statistical Modeling of Major Depression: Bridging the Gap between Brain and Behavior"

Crystal Zheng
"BDNF VAL66MET Induces Endocytosis-Dependent Dendritic Spine Collapse via proNGF-like Collapse Mechanism"

Hunter College High School
Kalia D. Firester
"The Role of Fatty Acid and Retinol Binding Proteins (FARs) During Host Parasitism by RKN Meloidogyne spp."

Ossining High School
"A Search for Tidally-Distorted White Dwarf Binaries in the Kepler Survey"

Pelham Memorial High School
Max Pine
"Effect of Climate on the Spatial Distribution and Synchrony of Eight Irruptive Bird Species"

Roslyn High School
Tiffany Sun
"The Effect of SES, Beauty, and Disability in the Trolley Problem"

Commack High School
Scott Massa
"The Importance of Endocytosis to Neuregulin1 Back Signaling: Implications in Neuropsychiatric and Neurodegenerative Disorders"

For the complete list of semifi­nalists from New York public high schools, visit