Intel semifinalists find their calling - Queens Chronicle: North/Northeast Queens News

Intel semifinalists find their calling

by Liz Rhoades, Managing Editor | Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2015 10:30 am

Queens’ three semifinalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition are all interested in pursuing careers in neuroscience. Their prize-winning entries dealt with Alzheimer’s disease, a woman’s biological clock and mental health.

Both Natalie Correa and Ariana Gopal attend St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, while Yarim Lee studies at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing.

It was announced last week that they were among 300 semifinalists and each will receive a $1,000 award with an equal amount per winner going to the two schools. The 40 finalists will be announced on Jan. 21 and will compete in Washington, DC from March 5 to 11 for a total of $1 million in awards.

Natalie heard about her win at home, while suffering from the flu, when someone from Prep texted her that she was a semifinalist. “I was so surprised, I cried,” she said. “I went crazy.”

The Rockville Centre, LI resident said she knows a lot of people with infertility problems and “I want to help women.” Her research project dealt with finding a way to determine how fast women lose egg cells.

She worked with the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Me., spending last summer there studying pre-collected data on mice. She found that the rate of loss becomes more significant after the age of 35 and that it’s genetic. “People don’t understand how time-sensitive fertility can be,” she said.

The only diagnostic tool available today is a sonogram, which Natalie believes women should have done earlier in life to determine the amount of eggs they have.

“The fact that it’s genetic opens a whole new door for screening in the future and to find ways to slow the rate down,” she said.

Ariana, who lives in Middle Village, said that her research was done in conjunction with Zucker Hillside Hospital. She hopes her findings will help with treatment of mental issues in the future.

She said that people with social cognitive dysfunction have a hard time interacting with others and dealing with social cues. “We don’t know how it develops or if changes in behavior can be taught,” she said.

Ariana looked at psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia and paranoia and found that people with serious psychotic symptoms had greater social cognitive dysfunction.

She based her research on comparing different scores from personality questionnaires.

“I hope that in the future different areas of the brain can be explored to find better treatment for these patients,” Ariana said.

Yarim did her research on eliminating the primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease. She’s been working on the project for three years at York College’s chemistry department.

Yarim, who lives in Douglaston, said she fell in love with biology and was looking for an opportunity for research. Eventually, like the other two students, she wants to specialize in the neurology field.

She noted that Alzheimer’s is caused by certain proteins that come together in the brain and cause neuro death.

Yarim looked for a different protein that could “fall between the cracks of the other proteins” so they don’t link and damage the brain.

She made a model and found that three prototypes did not work, but that another protein stopped the spread. “It could lead to drugs to help the condition,” she said. “I hope to continue research because a lot more needs to be done.”

She has already been accepted at Columbia University, where she will study in the fall.

The three Queens students were among 20 semifinalists from city schools. The others are: Michele Dale, Julia Donheiser, Farzana Khan, Sophia Kioulaphides, Martin Liberman, Lily Ma, Gurion Marks and Daniel Thach, from Bronx High School of Science; Kalia Firester, Sarah Hamerling, Erica Lin and Glenn Yu, from Hunter College High School; Daniel Charnis and Kai Pacheco, from Stuyvesant in Manhattan; Burhan Azeem, from Staten Island Technical; Charlynn Ben, of Midwood in Brooklyn; and Julia Sakowitz, of The Brearley School in Manhattan.