South Side student wins gold for research

Sadie Seulal advances to national science competition in Las Vegas


Sadie Seulal, a junior at South Side High School, took home the gold medal for her science fair project on tracking radioactive fallout in the United States using honey advancing her to the national NAACP Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics competition in Las Vegas in July.

Her project showcases her dedication to scientific research, and help shed light on an innovative approach to environmental monitoring.

The ACT-SO program, created in 1978 by author and journalist Vernon Jarrett, recognizes high school students for demonstrating academic, scientific, and artistic achievement, through competitions in a variety of subjects including humanities, STEM, business, and the performance, visual and culinary arts.

Students who participate in the program conduct mentoring and scholastic enrichment activities over the course of a year, culminating with the Long Island ACT-SO competition in April. Gold medalists, like Seulal, advance to the national competition where they can compete for scholarships and other rewards from national sponsors.

Seulal’s project delves into environmental contamination, an area that is timely and critical. Her curiosity led her to investigate how honey, a natural product, can serve as an indicator of radioactive material across the east coast — specifically cesium-137.

She began conducting her extensive research and analysis, while working in tandem with James Kaste, a geology professor at William and Mary College, during her sophomore year at South Side.

“I was able to test various honey samples throughout the east coast using a gamma ray spectrometer to see the levels of cesium-137 in the honey,” Seulal explained. “You wouldn't really think to test food to look for reactive material, and I just thought this topic was really unique and different.”

Her project highlights the potential of honey as a monitoring tool and raises awareness about food safety and environmental stewardship. Seulal’s findings, while not indicating immediate health risks, underscore the importance of monitoring and understanding the impact of human activities on the environment.

“Luckily the levels aren’t so high that it is affecting humans, but it is a bit concerning to see the amount of cesium-137 that was picked up by the gamma-ray spectrometer,” Seulal said. “It could be leading to bigger health factors that we may not realize that maybe we should be paying more attention to our wildlife and nature around us.”

Sadie has a newfound enthusiasm for research and experimentation.

“I’ve definitely enjoyed research more and more now,” she said. “Working with professors and conducting experiments myself has made the research process more fun and interesting for me.”

Herbert Weiss, science research coordinator at South Side, emphasized the significance of programs like ACT-SO in nurturing young talent.

“When you have great students, you help them,” Weiss said. “But the one thing that you have to do when you come across these incredibly talented students is to let them think on their own and just get out of the way to let them do their own thing.

“This common interest in science is what binds people together, so when you go to these fairs, you talk to people, you visualize what they’re doing, and you get inspired.”

South Side High School Principal Patrick Walsh commended Seulal on her work while highlighting the school’s commitment to fostering students’ scientific aptitude.

“We integrate science research into our own curriculum to support students in developing critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and presentation skills,” Walsh said. “Success breeds success, and with Sadie, other students see great things happening from some of their older peers and role models, so they look to emulate that.”