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NYMC Launches Rising Science Stars Both Regionally and Nationally

Ten Westchester County high school students, all who performed research under the guidance of NYMC faculty mentors, recently won prizes for their work at the Regeneron Westchester Science and Engineering Fair (WESEF). Six of these students—two individuals and two teams—were also grand prize finalists, earning all-expense paid trips to represent the region at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix this May. ISEF is the largest pre-college science fair in the world with over 1,600 students from over 60 countries expected to compete and present their research.

Five hundred and fifty students from 35 school districts in Westchester and Putnam participated in WESEF on March 12, delivering presentations of their scientific accomplishments in a poster forum. WESEF began in 2001 with 50 students from 12 schools.

“ISEF is known as the ‘Olympics of Science Fairs’,” explains Ardsley student, Vivek Hariharan, who was awarded first prize in the biochemistry category for his project “Exploring the Role of ω-Amidase as a Repair Enzyme for Hydroxyglutaramate and Hydroxysuccinamate,” and will be traveling to Phoenix to participate in the international competition.  

Mr. Hariharan conducted his research as part of the NYMC STAR (Summer Trainees in Academic Research) Program, in which he was mentored by professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, Arthur J. L. Cooper, Ph.D.  “I learned so much and had such a good experience working with Dr. Cooper,” says Mr. Hariharan. “It has helped determine what I want to do in the future. I encourage other kids in my school to apply for the STAR program because it has been such a great experience for me.”   

Likewise, it was an equally positive experience for NYMC.  “Vivek is a spectacular student,” says Dr. Cooper. “Today, much of biochemistry is really molecular biology, whereas I focus more on chemistry. Vivek picked it up very quickly, to the point that we had him troubleshooting issues. Vivek is very, very good.” 

Meera Kumanan, above, who earned first place in the cell and molecular category at WESEF for her presentation “mTOR Regulates the Phenotypic Modulation of De-differentiated Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Vascular Disease" and is also en route to ISEF in May, was another NYMC STAR Program participant, working with Nasreen Haque, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology.

“Conducting research was my way of delving into the world of biology outside of the classroom,” says Ms. Kumanan. “Working on a project that directly impacts patients with cardiovascular disease gave me the opportunity to explore my passion for science on a deeper level, which would not have been possible without Dr. Haque. She guided me throughout the project, whether it was in the training of laboratory procedures or helping me write scientific papers and present my work. I am extremely grateful to her and the rest of the lab, and am overjoyed for being recognized for my work.” 

Matthew Forman, right, who worked in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, with Esther Sabban, Ph.D., center, professor, and Lidia Serova, Ph.D., research associate professor, adds, “While working in the lab, I was able to get the full experience of collecting and analyzing data, an opportunity that only a few have. This lab experience has truly prepared me for my future in the field of science and has affected my life in positive ways only. The recent recognitions I’ve received for my research are shared with Dr. Sabban and Dr. Serova as I wouldn’t have been able to succeed without them.”

Drs. Haque, Sabban and Serova share their students’ pride and speak highly of their work and achievements. “I have found Meera to be an exceptional student with an engaging personality,” says Dr. Haque. “It has been a productive and positive experience to have such an enthusiastic student working in the lab.” Dr. Sabban concludes, “We are very proud of their accomplishments.”  

Regeneron Westchester Science and Engineering Fair Winners

‌First Place Awards

Vivek Hariharan*, Ardsley High School
Mentor: Arthur J.L. Cooper, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology

Cell Biology:
Anisha Duvvi*, Yorktown High School, and Kruti Sutaria*, Ardsley High School
Mentors: Dorothy A. Frenz, Ph.D., research professor of cell biology and anatomy, and Stuart A. Newman, Ph.D., professor of cell biology and anatomy

Meera Kumanan*, Yorktown High School
Mentor: Nasreen Haque, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology

Yasir Khan, Ossining High School (front)
Mentor: Dana Mordue, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology‌ (back)

Second Place Awards

Matthew Forman*, Ossining High School, and Jack Lepkowski*, Ossining High School
Mentors: Esther L. Sabban, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Lidia Serova, Ph.D.,  research associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology

Gowri Viswanathan, Yorktown High School, and Amba Viswanathan, Yorktown High School
Mentor: Dana Mordue, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology

Fourth Place Award

Cell and Molecular Biology:
Emily DeBitetto, Fox Lane High School
Mentor: Paul Lucas, Ph.D., associate professor of orthopedic surgery and pathology

*Finalists and grand prize winners, earning trips to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix this May.