11 students named Intel semifinalists, no finalists

The Intel Science Talent Search announced its 2012 finalists on Jan. 25. Several perennial contenders landed in the top 40 including two from Stuyvesant High School in New York City and one from Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, Md.  Jefferson did not make it into the top 40, but had a double digit performance as semifinalists.

The recognized students at Jefferson were seniors Nicolas Arango, Ned Danyliw, Tushar Kamath, Darwin Li, Veronica Peterkin, Rithvik Prasannappa, Pranava Raparla, Arjun Srinivasan, Mary Sun, Anjali Taneja and Yuqing Zhang.

“This year’s results are great,” Intel/Siemens competition coordinator and Chemical Analysis laboratory director Brian Kennedy said. “The number of students selected as semifinalists was above average and a great turnout for the school.”

The deadline for submitting a project to Intel was Nov. 1, an early cut-off date for many students. However, students started their research protocols prior to the start of senior year were better prepared for the quick turnaround.

“I had my project essentially completed in the summer and used the fall to run some more trials,” Prasannappa said of his lab work at the molecular neuroscience lab at the Krasnow Institute of George Mason University.

Prasannappa has worked at Krasnow for the past two years. His Intel project examines the behavioral functions of a certain class of neurons using optogenetic tools to selectively activate these neurons in drosophila larvae.

Most semifinalists conducted research during the summer with offsite mentors. Arango, Danyliw and Raparla, all interned at MITRE and submitted their summer work as their Intel project.

In contrast, few semifinalists developed their own project and conducted research independently over the years. Peterkin, who studied the behavioral effect of wearing an ultraviolet dosimeter for her project, began researching her topic as early as the ninth grade.

“I started researching melanoma in my ninth grade English class as part of the DuPont Challenge Essay Contest,” Peterkin said. “Personally knowing someone affected by the disease really made me want to learn more about melanoma and what I could do to contribute to its prevention.”

While Peterkin’s project was largely independent, she received a lot of assistance from her sponsor, Biotechnology lab director Andrea Cobb, former statistics teacher Philip Ero and her mentor, Suraj Venna at the Washington Cancer Institute, in completing her project.

Now participating in the senior biotechnology laboratory, Peterkin is pursuing another subset of her melanoma research by focusing on disease detection.

“This year I am laying the groundwork for research I want to continue in college for the next four years,” Peterkin said.

Sun carried out her research on adolescent depressive disorder independently for a couple of years.

Sun shares credit for her project with her teachers and sponsor, Neuroscience laboratory director Paul Cammer, who provided her with steady feedback throughout her research.

“I submitted my research paper to Dr. Cammer, who reviewed and gave me a lot of feedback for the project,” Sun said.

Sun also attributes her successful research experience to the preparation she received in her prerequisite classes.

“I learned a lot of skills in my Neurobiology and DNA classes,” Sun said. “Getting practice reading articles, developing an experimental design, and keeping a journal became essential for conducting research.”

With the Intel deadline being so early, a quick turnaround can be a deterrent for many applicants if they do not start the application process before the start of the school year.

“There just isn’t enough time in the first two months of mentorship to start a new project, complete it, write a paper and complete the Intel application,” Raparla said.

Completing the Intel application is an extensive process which consists of answering several essay questions, submitting a research report and providing three recommendations.

“It can be a very comprehensive process and application,” Kennedy said. “In order to do well in a competition like this, students should start the process well in advance of or during the summer prior to senior year so they can better represent themselves.”

Every year, Intel selects a total of 300 semifinalists from high schools nationwide and overseas. This year, Jefferson garnered the second highest number of semifinalists overall. Each semifinalist is awarded $1,000, and each recognized school receives $1,000 for every student named as semifinalist.