For the first time in Kennedy High School history, there are two Society for Science & the Public Science Talent Search finalists — Andrew Brinton and Katherine St. George, both 17, of Merrick. Kennedy is one of only a handful of schools from across the country to boast more than one finalist in this most prestigious of high school science competitions, sponsored this year by the pharmaceutical company Regeneron.
Brinton and St. George will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., from March 5 to 11, where they will compete for more than $1.8 million in awards, with a top prize of $250,000, provided by Regeneron, according to the competition's website. Each finalist will receive a minimum prize of $25,000.
Each year, 300 Regeneron scholars are selected from nearly 2,000 applicants nationwide. Each semifinalist earns a $2,000 award, along with $2,000 for their respective schools.
In Barbi Frank's Advanced Science Research class at Kennedy, students put hundreds of hours of research into their projects. They often have practical, potentially world-changing conclusions.
“I’m so impressed — the perseverance and passion is really unparalleled,” Frank said of her Advanced Research class. “It’s hard to imagine what they really do [in their research], but when you dig deep, it really is mind-blowing.”
In his work, Brinton sought “an environmentally friendly way of fighting climate change.” Much of the research for his project, titled “Marsh Restoration: Ribbed Mussels (Geukensia demissa) as a Revival Mechanism to Rebuild the Coastal Salt Marshes of Long Island, New York,” was conducted while he was boots-deep in Freeport’s wetlands — accompanied, for safety’s sake, by his father, Herald Community Newspapers Executive Editor Scott Brinton — examining the “symbiotic relationship” between ribbed mussels and the marshes, which depend on the mussels’ feces to grow.
Seeding the wetlands with ribbed mussels, Brinton told the Herald earlier this month, could help revive Long Island’s salt marshes, which would give residents added protection against future mega-storms like Sandy. The marshes are eroding at a rapid rate, he found, but the introduction of more mussels could help restore them.
“Marshes are like a sponge,” Brinton explained, and a healthier marsh system could have significantly reduced the level of Sandy flooding, particularly in Freeport. Brinton fears, however, that the wetlands could vanish in his lifetime if no action is taken, as the effects of the climate crisis, in particular sea-level rise, worsen each year.
Marshes are not only a practical counter to storm flooding, but also are a cost-effective way to protect Long Island’s mainland. Marsh-revival projects using Brinton’s research could serve as an alternative to “synthetic storm surge barriers,” which harm the environment by reducing biodiversity, he said.
Brinton conducted his research under the guidance of Hofstra University professor Dr. Emma Farmer, and he worked with the Long Island Regional Planning Council and the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan as well. Climate change “transcends politics,” he said. “With the things the world is facing, we can’t keep going the way we’re going.”
Brinton, who devoted some 650 hours to his project, has been accepted by Fordham University and the Hofstra University Honors College, and is now awaiting three other responses from universities. In college, he plans to study environmental science and music. He has been an All-County tenor saxophonist the past three years, and was selected as an All-State alternate by the New York State School Music Association this year. He is also co-president of Kennedy’s mock trial team and a member of the science club.
Katherine St. George
St. George’s project, “The Ketogenic Diet Ameliorates the Effects of Caffeine in Seizure Susceptible Drosophilia Melanogaster,” examined the relationship between epilepsy, the keto diet and caffeine consumption, which typically heightens convulsive symptoms.
Using fruit flies as her test subjects, she concluded that consuming more fat and fewer carbohydrates counteracts the negative effects of caffeine. She offered that “keto is an effective, non-medicinal” treatment for epilepsy, and her project confirmed its anti-convulsive properties.
“Now there’s an alternative for people not wanting to use medicine,” but who still consume caffeine, Frank said.
St. George initially wanted to research influenza, she said, but that changed once she saw how nutrition can play a role in the treatment of epilepsy. “It really inspired me to investigate [a] previously uninvestigated interaction,” she said.
In total, she estimated that she spent more than 400 hours on her project. She studied under Dr. Theodore Brummel, a LIU biology professor.
At Kennedy, St. George, her class valedictorian, is president of the Gay-Straight Alliance and the head of Helping Our Planet Earth, an environmental club. She also teaches for Tutors for a Cure, through which she helped raise $3,200 for cancer research last year. She has also spearheaded several community-oriented projects, including one to spruce up Cammanns Pond Park in Merrick.
She will attend Columbia University in the fall, where she plans to major in math.
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