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Lynbrook High School seniors are Regeneron scholars

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Two Lynbrook High School seniors were named last week among 300 semifinalists in the 2019 Regeneron Science Talent Search, one of the nation’s most prestigious science research contests.

Kaylie Hausknecht and Juliana Condoleo, both 17, have been in the school’s Science Research Program since ninth grade. 2019 is the first time that two semifinalists from Lynbrook were named in the annual competition.

“I saw my name and I couldn’t breathe,” Hausknecht said of her reaction when she read the list of honorees. “I think it’s really exciting, because it shows that our school’s research program is really, really strong.”

Condoleo said she was “beyond excited” to earn the accolade. “I’m really grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to do research, for my mentors and the Science Research Program at my school for helping me pursue my research projects over the years,” she said.

The students’ projects were selected from 1,964 entries that were received from 184 high schools in 40 states as well as two American and international high schools overseas. The scholars were selected on the basis of their exceptional promise as scientists, their academic records and the recommendations of teachers and other scientists. They will each receive $2,000, with an equal amount go-ing to Lynbrook High to be applied to science, technology, engineering and math education.

The Regeneron contest is a program of the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit founded in 1921 that is dedicated to expanding scientific literacy and research and effective science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — education. Alumni of the contest have made many contributions to science and hold more than 100 of the world’s most distinguished science and math honors, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science.

Hausknecht’s project was titled “Disentangling spatial correlations in homogenous materials which shift in varying networks.” To conduct her research, she was accepted to work at a physics lab at Harvard University, and she said her goal was to develop a new form of artificial intelligence to study superconductors. For more than a century, she explained, physics research has centered on superconductors, materials that can conduct electricity without losing any energy to resistance.

Hausknecht said that her research taught her that scientists have been unable to create superconductors at room temperature. The materials used to transform an electrical transmission become disordered at an atomic level, she noted, and the disorder interferes with scientists’ ability to study superconducting materials. For her project, she created an algorithm to see through the disorder, which will help scientists examine the properties of superconducting materials.

She said she spent eight weeks in the lab at Harvard and has continued to work on her project. She added that she Skypes with some of her mentors from Harvard to get advice and update them on the progress of her research. She has continued to work on her theories at Hofstra University, and said her high school teachers have guided her, and likened the Regeneron contest to “the Super Bowl of science competition.” Hausknecht said that David Shanker, one of the teachers who runs the Science Research Program at Lynbrook High, has been a helpful mentor.

Shanker said he was proud of Hausknecht and Condoleo for their accomplishments, and added that they are proof of the program’s impact on students. “Working with Juliana and Kaylie from the ninth grade on, seeing them develop into our future scientists, has been a highlight of my career,” Shanker said.

For her project, Condoleo studied the protein ACK1 kinase, and experimented with its role in learning and memory using fruit flies. She trained the insects to associate an odor with a sugar reward, and she tested them to see if they had the ability to remember. “Ultimately, I learned that when ACK1 is not produced, there is a learning deficiency exhibited, establishing a novel role for the protein kinase,” she explained.

Condoleo worked at Farmingdale State College under the mentorship of Dr. Lisa Prazak-Stockwell and Dr. Azad Gucwa, and had help from Shanker and Charles Vessalico, another teacher in the Science Research Program.

Condoleo said she had been interested in neuroscience for many years, and started researching the discipline during her freshman year. She added that she plans to major in the subject when she heads to Johns Hopkins University this fall.

Hausknecht has been accepted at Harvard, where she plans to study physics and math. She said she spent 40 to 50 hours per week in the lab over the summer, and has been fond of physics and research for many years. She will present her findings at the Boston American Physical Society conference in March. She previously took physics classes at Columbia University, and attended a Mathematics for Young Scientists program at Boston University one summer.

To be eligible for the competition, the two young scientists had to write essays, receive recommendations from teachers and show scientific excellence throughout their high school years.

“We are so very proud of these two young scientists,” Lynbrook Schools Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak said. “They have dedicated a great deal of their time and talent to their research, and deserve to be recognized for the high quality of their work. It’s exciting for everyone.”

On Jan. 23, 40 of the 300 contest semifinalists will be named finalists. They will be treated to all-expenses-paid trips to Washington, D.C., March 7-13, where they will compete for more than $1.3 million in awards provided by Regeneron.