Inside Award-Winning Research Projects

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During the first week of January, five Ward Melville High School seniors were named semifinalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search competition.  Below is an overview of their award-winning submissions:

Eleni Aneziris was named for her work in the field of psychology titled “Effects of Predictability on the Startle Reflex in Anticipation of Emotionally-evocative Pictures.”
Summary of her work:
Preparing for future events is vital for survival, yet extreme sensitivity to threat can interfere with daily functioning and may indicate an anxiety disorder. I studied the impact of predictability on the startle reflex, a tool that measures emotional processing while anticipating emotional pictures. Ninety-five participants completed a fear conditioning paradigm in which neutral, pleasant and unpleasant pictures were presented with predictable or unpredictable timing. The increase in anxiety was greater during the unpredictable compared to the predictable timing trials with unpleasant pictures, and my results showed that abnormally high sensitivity to unpredictability may thus be the primary cause of anxiety disorders.

Sophia Chen was rewarded for her mathematics project “On Steady Super-Kähler Ricci Solitons.”
Summary of her work:
A manifold is a generalization of the idea of a curved surface in a higher dimension. I studied super
manifolds with some dimensions that aren’t described by ordinary numbers. One way of studying manifolds is to study how their shape changes with time. In particular, interesting manifolds are ones which evolve in such a way that their shape remains the same. I found examples of such manifolds when they have two super dimensions as well as two ordinary dimensions. I also proved the nonexistence of certain others in higher dimensions. These kinds of objects are interesting to mathematicians and physicists.

Ariel Leong worked in the field of bioinformatics and was noted for her project “Systematic Discovery of Genes and Networks in Colon Cancer Stem Cells Implicated in Chemoresistance.”
Summary of her work:
Colon cancer patients have a 91% survival rate when the cancer is detected early, but only 11% if it has metastasized. This is partly due to chemoresistance caused by cancer stem cells. The p53 gene is an extremely important tumor suppressor; it’s the most frequently mutated gene in human cancers. Tumors in which p53 is mutated or deleted are more virulent than those that have p53 intact. Thus the link between p53 and chemoresistance warranted investigation. I explored potential interactions between genes, and analyzed gene activity in two colon cancer non-stem cells and two colon cancer stem cells. I analyzed how p53 loss affected chemoresistant and non-chemoresistant colon cancer cells differently, and found potential p53 targets.

Harriet O’Brien was recognized for her work in the field of multiple sclerosis titled “The Characterization of Immunomodulatory and Remyelinating Agents on Microglial Polarization.”
Summary of her work:
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease in which the immune system degrades the protective covering of nerves. Upon neurological injury, microglia, the resident immune cells of the CNS, activate and polarize to one of two phenotypes: pro- or anti-inflammatory. Microglial polarization can be manipulated by drugs and is a promising target for the treatment of MS. I examined the effects of drug-mediated polarization with individual and combinatorial treatments and found the tested drugs to induce an anti-inflammatory shift. Further results may display the pathway through which one drug exerts this shift. The discovery of both as immunosuppressant agents is a step towards their reposition as treatments for neurological diseases such as MS.

Fangrui Tong completed a project in the field of nanomaterial science titled “A New Approach to Chemical Sensing Using Tunable Optical Properties of Unique Nanostructures of TiO2 Coated Morpho peleides Butterfly Scales.”
Summary of her work: Chemical sensors may be improved by the M. peleides butterfly, which gets its characteristic blue hue from the refraction of light by small nanostructures on its wing surfaces rather than from pigment. This mechanism allows the output color to be changed by an alteration of the structure, such as when chemical vapors are adsorbed onto the surface, adding a thin film that changes the way light refracts. We observed the ethanol responses of the nanostructures (when coated and uncoated with TiO2) by taking the spectra of the wing in varied concentrations of ethanol vapor in the UV-vis range. We concluded that the TiO2 coating did not negate the structure’s effects.