Five Ward Melville Students are Intel Semifinalists


Kirti Nath, Science Editor

On January 6th, five seniors in InSTAR, Ward Melville High School’s science research program, were named semifinalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search Competition. These seniors worked for several months on research, primarily conducted over the summer preceding this academic year. The group worked closely with InSTAR advisor, Dr. Marnie Kula, to write reports and personal essays for the competition since the beginning of the school year.


Below are interviews with our five winners.



  1. What was the title of your project/ what is a brief synopsis of your project?
  2. What was your experience with Intel submissions/ writing the different essays?
  3. How much time did you spend working on your project? When did you start working on it?
  4. What did you feel like when you found out you were a semifinalist? How did you find out?
  5. How was your research experience? Were you surprised by anything? What skills do you feel you gained from it? 
  6. What advice would you give to people who want to pursue research? 


Sophia Chen

  1. On steady Super Kahler Ricci solitons. It was basically solving the Ricci Flow equation on super manifolds. Manifolds in the simplest sense is a surface, except you have to think of how curved it is and how many directions it can go. The Ricci flow equation examines how manifolds evolve over time under certain parameters.


  1. A lot of last minute freaking out and checking for mistakes in an 18-page research paper. The essays weren’t that bad either. The way InSTAR is set up you have the essays finished long before the actual deadline so it made the process simpler the night before. However, the character limit on the essays was pretty hard to meet. Imagine simplifying something you’ve been learning/researching for a year and a half into 300 characters while making it sound understandably important.


  1. I started working with my mentor, Professor Martin Rocek, around May of 2014. I pretty much spent my first summer learning the background with my mentor for a few hours and researching a bit afterwards each day. A lot of the actual project was done during the spring of junior year. Since it was a theoretical project, I didn’t really meet up with my mentor on a regular basis. Some weeks I would go to his office every day at 4 and work till 8 or 9 and some weeks where I didn’t go to his office at all and worked on the calculations on my own a bit.


  1. Pretty shocked. I still can’t believe that it actually happened. I found out by scrolling through the Intel website on my friend’s phone.


  1. It was really engaging and fun if like solving equations and interpreting equations for hours on end. I’m proud to say I know how to use LaTeX, a word processor that scientists use to write mathematical equations. Maybe also that I can do some really cool math and now I’m tempted to reference the world form the mathematical/theoretical physics point of view. It was surprising to realize that I learned some life lessons while doing research. I can’t thank my mentor enough for what he has done for me.


  1. It’s more important to remind yourself that this project is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Also, it’s okay to doubt yourself when you’re in the middle of researching. If later you find it’s not for you it’s all right, but remember passion isn’t born; it’s bred. And for anyone who’s doubting their ability, isn’t that the point of research? A Wernher von Braun quote feels pretty on point: “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”


Eleni Aneziris

  1. Effects of Predictability on the Startle Reflex in Anticipation of Emotionally-Evocative Pictures. Preparing for future events is vital for survival. Yet extreme sensitivity to threat can interfere with daily functioning, and may indicate an anxiety disorder. I studied the impact of predictability on the startle reflex, a tool that measures emotional processing, while anticipating emotional pictures.


  1. The Intel submission process was long and hard. Besides the actual paper, there were so many essays that we needed to write, both about the project specifically, and also about our aspirations as scientists. I’d recommend getting started on those as soon as possible, and definitely visit Dr. Kula with any questions, because I really benefited from her advice.


  1. I started working on my project January 2015. I worked on my project about 10 hours/week during the school year and 20 hours/week over the summer.


  1. I was shocked. There were so many submissions and the chances of becoming a semifinalist were just so slim that I didn’t even imagine the possibility.


  1. My research experience was truly invaluable. I learned how to set up an EMG. I learned how to read 18 papers in two weeks. I learned how stick electrodes under the eyes of complete strangers in a very weird and personal setting that only a psychology lab could give you. But most importantly, I learned how to fully commit myself to a project for a really extended period of time and get past any hurdles that came in the way, even when there wasn’t the motivation of an immediate reward waiting at the end.


  1. Start early. Finding a mentor is hard and I don’t know about other fields, but in psychology, I definitely do not think that one summer is enough time. Also, I suggest picking a topic that you’re truly interested in, because it definitely won’t be fun being stuck in a lab all summer doing something you absolutely can’t stand. And try to maintain a dialogue with your mentor as consistently as you can (whether it be in person or through email). They’re going to be your most valuable resource during this whole process, so make sure you ask them about anything you’re unsure of or are wondering about.




Harriet O’Brien

  1. The Characterization of Immunomodulatory and Remyelinating Agents on Microglial Polarization. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease in which the immune system degrades the protective covering of nerves. Upon neurological injury, microglia, the resident immune cells of the CNS, activate and polarize to one of two phenotypes: pro- or anti-inflammatory. Microglial polarization can be manipulated by drugs and is a promising target for the treatment of MS. I examined the effects of drug-mediated polarization with individual and combinatorial treatments and discovered the ability to make the anti-inflammatory shift.


  1. Submission was easy as I already had a finished paper from Siemens. For Siemens, I accidentally deleted the paper from my computer assuming it was on my USB, realized it was not, and rewrote my paper three days before the deadline. This time, however, I reread thoroughly and made extensive edits. Writing the essays was not difficult because I thoroughly understood my research and the deadlines in class were an incentive not to procrastinate.


  1. I was introduced to my lab and developed the structure of my project in May but I started working on a daily basis in June after school ended. I spent the entire summer working, staying late and coming early when necessary.


  1. I was shocked because I forgot the semifinalists were being announced on 1/6 and Siemens and Intel winners normally do not overlap. Students that submitted to Intel were called down to the InSTAR room and we waited for the results.


  1. I loved both my experience working on the pharmacology of CNS microglia and my interactions with other lab members and their work. I was surprised that the people in my lab welcomed and supported me enthusiastically. Not only did I learn the technicalities of procedure, my challenges spurred a newfound sense of inquiry. My perseverance and positive experience, despite difficulties, has clarified my interest in research. I look forward to working next summer, throughout college and hope to transform research into my career.


  1. Find a lab that conducts research that truly interests you. If you enjoy your project, it will be easier to understand and motivate you to work hard. Do not select a lab merely because they have a history of semifinalists.


Fangrui Tong

  1. A New Approach to Chemical Sensing Using Tunable Optical Properties of Unique Nanostructures of TiO2 Coated Morpho peleides Butterfly Scale.


  1. Writing the Intel essays were fun since they were a refreshing break from writing the paper because some of the prompts were about things like how we got into science. It was an opportunity to write more freely and creatively than the deadlocked no nonsense style of a research paper. I was actually away during the actual submission of everything though. Unfortunately, the submission deadline coincided with our yearbook trip to Disney so I ended up spending a few sleepless nights sending my paper back and forth with my mentor trying to finish it.



  1. I started working in my lab the summer before sophomore year when I shadowed a grad student. The year after I actually started on my project with a different grad student and completed it last summer, so in total I’ve spent two summers on my project.


  1. I didn’t even know that Intel results were coming out until I got called down to the InSTAR room during seventh period. It was only when I saw the large crowd of fellow classmates and two reporters that I realized what was going on. The teachers were trying to figure out how to get the results projected on the whiteboard but I found out from a few friends pulling up the same results on their phones. It was a shock finding out that I’d won considering how I hadn’t really expected much, but it was a very pleasant surprise.


  1. My research experience was a bit mundane but fun. I’d go into this lab everyday during the summer which was horrible because lab protocol calls for long pants and it would get to over 90 degrees outside. I’d find myself doing the same things everyday–reading journals, taking notes, crying over my college apps. Only occasionally did I really find myself doing actual experimentation since a lab of six people all trying to use the same machine meant that my allotted time wasn’t really that much. But even though a majority of my research timeliness was preoccupied with me staring at the same potted plants, the few moments when I actually could do stuff gave me the new vision of how interdisciplinary fields could intermingle. Because in high school our knowledge of science is separated into the different fields of physics and chemistry and biology, it’s a totally new experience to see how they can all come together–knowledge of biology was required for the butterflies, physics for how light refracts to create the color of the wings, chemistry for the different materials that we needed to use.


  1. It might get boring while you’re doing it but sometimes research is like one of those books we are forced to read for English–it’s torture while you’re reading it but the sort of thinking that it provokes when you’re done, the aftertaste of thoughts, is really what’s rewarding. You’ll realize that what little you think you’ve done actually amounts to quite a lot.


Ariel Leong

  1. The title was Systematic Discovery of Genes and Networks in Colon Cancer Stem Cells Implicated in Chemoresistance. I used computational methods to try to discover new targets for drugs.


  1. It was interesting in a good way; the essays asked about more than just my project, so I had to think about the implications of my project and other things too.


  1. I suppose I started in late June (really late, I know). I spent a lot of time working on it, though, because it was really interesting! I was in the lab from 9 to 5 on weekdays during the summer as part of the Simons Program.


  1. I was really shocked, since I didn’t expect it at all, and also ecstatic! The InSTAR class was called down to the InSTAR room, so we all found out together.


  1. My research experience was amazing; I enjoyed it a lot and learned so much. I think I got an idea of what being a researcher is like, and really appreciated being able to delve deeply into one field


  1. Don’t be discouraged by failure; keep trying