MHS Has Three Intel Semifinalists for 2009

by Judy Silberstein and Debbie Manetta

(January 15, 2009) Three Mamaroneck High School students are among the 300 semifinalists chosen from a pool of 1,608 entrants in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search for 2009. “I was hoping to have one semifinalist,” said Guido Garbarino, who teaches the three-year original science research elective at MHS. “Three is a terrific surprise.

Intel semifinalists MHS
Jennifer Fasman, Sarah Henkind and Robert Towle were named semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search.

Included on the list, which was released on Wednesday, January 14, are Jennifer Fasman, Sarah Henkind and Robert Towle, all 17-year old seniors. Each will receive a $1000 award for outstanding research, and the high school will receive $3,000 as a recognition of excellent teaching and for its support of individual research.

On January 28, the students will learn if they are among the 40 finalists who will present their research at a Washington, D.C. conference and share in scholarships totaling $530,000.

To get to the semifinals, the students have devoted countless hours in the past three years working with their teachers or scientific mentors to plan, design, execute and explain their independent studies.

"The great thing about this competition," said Mr. Garbarino, "is that it recognizes kids for their unique talents and interests. Our three semifinalists and their projects are extremely different from one another. What they have in common is a passion for science and a work ethic which put them over the top."

Sarah Henkind studied the effects of simulated eye diseases on artists and their work. Many famous artists suffered from eye diseases, and others conjecture that the effects of these diseases can be seen in their artwork. To investigate the possible relationship, Sarah made goggles which simulated the effects of cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. Students in the MHS art program drew objects wearing the various goggles, which art teachers later classified based on which disease they thought it represented. Sarah’s work suggests that the eye diseases did indeed have characteristic and consistent effects on the quality of the artwork.

Nifer Fasman investigated the expression of floral MADS-box genes in the Aristolochiaceae family. She worked with scientists at The New York Botanical Garden and looked at whether a particular genetic model of floral development of recent plants is also present in the older Aristolochiaceae family of plants. Her results suggest that it was.

Robbie Towle’s project was on a new instrument for early detection of vocal fold nodules using passive ultrasound. Vocal node – or vocal chord – nodules are a common laryngeal disorder that is especially problematic for those who use their voices professionally. The research involved developing a hand-held device to “listen” to ultrasound (a transducer) and a model of the human lungs, larynx, and vocal folds. Air was passed through the model , first with no nodules present and then with simulated nodules present. Differences were found in the ultrasonic signature under the two conditions, showing the potential for ultrasound detection of vocal fold nodules and other similar medical conditions.

Mamaroneck High School's last Intel semifinalist was Meg Ryan in 2007. (See: MHS Senior Megan Ryan Named Intel Semi-Finalist.) Derek Grossman earned the honor in 1999. Brian Chin, in 1997, and Jed Mowshawitz, in 1990, were semifinalists in the Westinghouse competition, which preceded the Intel Talent Search. In 2000, Jacqueline Gordon was a Siemens-Westinghouse regional semifinalist.

Debbie Manetta is the spokesperson for the Mamaroneck High School.