Tristan Bissoondial, an 8th grade student at Grand Avenue Middle School, was recently named a semifinalist in the Broadcom Masters science competition — a premier science, technology, engineering and math competition for middle school students in the nation.
Bissoondial, 13, participated in the competition after his research project placed first in the category of Environmental Science at the Tri-County Science and Technology Fair.
A member of the research club at Grand Avenue, and a soccer player in and outside of school, Bissoondial told the Herald he had heard about high levels of cadmium, a heavy metal, in waters in West Islip and the Block Island Sound.
“They were saying not to eat the fish [from these areas] because of the outbreak,” Bissoondial said. “I wanted to see if I could find something to stop this.”
For his project, titled “Glycine Betaine Improves Tolerance to Cadmium in Lemna minor,” Bissoondial said he tested cadmium on duckweed, an aquatic plant, and found that glycine betaine, a nontoxic amino acid derivative, had an effect when it came to protecting duckweed from the metal. Bissoondial added that he also tested the protectiveness of melatonin — a hormone linked to sleeping — but found it had little effect.
With his findings, Bissoondial sent in a video application to the Broadcom Masters competition.
With more than 1,800 projects sent to Broadcom, Bissoondial placed as one of the 300 semifinalists from across the nation as a 7th grader last year. In New York, he was just one of four middle school students to place.
“When I was first interested in science in 3rd grade, I was reading food labels because I had food allergies,” Bissoondial said of his interest in the field. “One of the first projects I did was testing food coloring, because it was in a lot of the food I ate.”
Testing titanium dioxide, a common component in food coloring, on radish plants, he found “it was very toxic.”
Remaining curious about the chemicals that end up in the foods people eat, Bissoondial also learned that cadmium was also in 75 percent of baby foods on the market, thus motivating his research.
The in-lab research process took about three months and was completed at a lab in Hewlett High School with the assistance of Bissoondial’s older brother, Tyler Bissoondial.
“I did this with my brother in a lab,” Bissoondial said. “We ordered the samples and were able to get it.”
“We had to get the supplies, count which [duckweed plants] lived or didn’t live,” he added. “We had to test everything with different chemicals — and test the chloroform in it.
Tyler, a junior at John F. Kennedy High School, previously placed as a finalist in the Broadcom Masters competition when he was a freshman. He was also featured in the Herald earlier this year for placing in the 2021 Spellman Clean Tech Competition, another international science competition.
“The main conclusion was that I was able to help prevent the plants from dying,” Bissoondial said. “Glycine betain had that effect.”
With science being an interest to Bissoondial, he shared that he is unsure if this is something he’d like to pursue as a career — but he’s got plenty of time to decide.
“It’s something I could do,” he said. “But, it depends — it’s definitely out there as an option.”
Tristan’s science teacher, Tami Cruz, said Tristan was a “kind, well-rounded and talented student.”
“He is very hardworking and tries his best at everything he does,” Cruz said. “His best quality — in my opinion — is his compassion towards others.”