Four New York Students Win Regional Siemens Competition at Carnegie Mellon University for Research on Personalized Cancer Treatment and Ozone Resistance

High School Scientists Earn Top Prizes at Nation's Premier STEM Competition
Ivan Paskov of Scarsdale, New York, Wins Top Individual Prize;
Priyanka Wadgaonkar, Woodmere, N.Y., Zainab Mahmood, Hewlett, N.Y., and JiaWen Pei, Valley Stream, N.Y. Win Top Team Prize

PR Newswire

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 16, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Months of dedication and hard work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) paid off tonight for four students named National Finalists in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, the nation's premier research competition for high school students. Ivan Paskov of Scarsdale, N.Y. earned the top honors and a $3,000 individual scholarship for research on personalized cancer treatments. Research on plants' resistance to ozone earned Priyanka Wadgaonkar, Woodmere, N.Y.; Zainab Mahmood, Hewlett, N.Y.; and JiaWen Pei, Valley Stream, N.Y. the $6,000 team scholarship.

The students presented their research this weekend to a panel of judges from Carnegie Mellon University, host of the Region Four Finals. They are now invited to present their work on a national stage at the National Finals in Washington, D.C., December 7-10, 2013, where $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including two top prizes of $100,000. The Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board.

"These incredible students have invested significant time and energy to advance research and exploration in critical fields," said David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation. "I commend the finalists for their outstanding achievements and wish them luck in the next phase of the competition."

The Winning Individual
Ivan Paskov, a senior from Edgemont Junior/Senior High School in Scarsdale, N.Y., won the individual category and a $3,000 scholarship for his project entitled, Predicting Cancer Drug Response Using Nuclear Norm Multi-Task Learning.

Ivan's mother was diagnosed with cancer when he was in fifth grade, so he channeled his initial shock and fear into determination to fight the disease through groundbreaking research. Since each cancer responds differently to an individual drug, Ivan explored those relationships to determine their complex interactions.  Using a process inspired by the human brain, he was able to significantly increase the accuracy of drug response predictions, providing novel insights into personalized cancer treatments.

"This is a very impressive work that makes a significant contribution towards developing new methods for computationally-driven personalized cancer treatment," said Dr. Barnabas Poczos, assistant professor of Machine Learning, Carnegie Mellon University. "It is just amazing how deep of an understanding Ivan Paskov already has in optimization theory, machine learning, and biology, and how creatively he used his expertise to create a new method that could potentially save the lives of many patients with cancer."

President of his school's Technology Club, Ivan is also an alto saxophonist in the high school band and jazz band, and a Builder's Club volunteer. He was a perfect scorer and Gold Medalist in the United States Math Talent Search and won both first place and the "Intel Excellence in Computer Science" award at the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair. He hopes to continue his cancer research after college.

Ivan's mentor is Dr. Christina Leslie, head of Computational Biology Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

The Winning Team
Seniors Priyanka Wadgaonkar, Zainab Mahmood, and JiaWen Pei from George W. Hewlett High School, Hewlett, N.Y.  won the team category and will share a $6,000 scholarship for their project entitled, The Isolation and Characterization of an Ozone Responsive Stress Related Protein (OZS) in Ceratopteris richardii.

The team examined the underappreciated effect of air pollution, particularly ozone, on plant health and crop yield, isolating how plants adapt to that physical stress. They found a correlation between ozone resistance and a gene called "ozone responsive stress related protein (OZS)," which underwent multiple adaptations early in plant evolution, possibly to cope with the effects of ozone. They discovered this gene has the potential to make important crops more resistant to ozone and other physical stressors such as drought and the increasing salinity of soil.

"The team designed an elegant study – conducted completely in a high school lab – to understand how plants defend themselves against environmental stresses such as air pollution. This work addresses a fundamental environmental problem and its potential effect on our future food supply," said Dr. Brooke McCartney, associate professor, Department of Biological Science, Carnegie Mellon University. "These students exhibited remarkable creativity, persistence and critical thinking ability that represents the best of what science education can inspire."

Priyanka's parents' work as a cell biologist and a gastroenterologist sparked her interest in science, as well as her aspiration to become an emergency room physician. She is a recipient of the George Eastman Young Leaders Award and Chair of the Cabaret Night Business Committee.

Zainab is a member of the National Honor Society, a Euro Challenge Semifinalist, recipient of the United States Army Award, and the second-place winner of the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair. In her free time, she volunteers at the Franklin Early Childhood Center and plays Varsity Lacrosse. Zainab plans to pursue a career in engineering.

JiaWen has a longstanding interest in biomedical sciences and aspires to become a physician. Captain of her school's fencing team, she is also a member of the National Honor Society, Foreign Language Honor Society, chorus, and orchestra.

The team's mentor is Dr. Terrence Bissoondial, a biological research teacher at George W. Hewlett High School. A 2010 Siemens Teachers as Researchers (STARs) fellow, Terrence coached the 2012 Siemens Competition National Finals winning team, also from George W. Hewlett High School.

Regional Finalists
The remaining regional finalists each received a $1,000 scholarship. 

Regional Finalists in the individual category were:

  • Surin Ahn, Mamaroneck High School, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
  • Alexandra Lagrassa, The Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, N.Y.
  • Michael Lim, Stuyvesant High School, New York, N.Y.
  • Saranya Vijayakumar, Riverdale Country School, Bronx, N.Y.

Team Regional Finalists were:

  • Sahil Abbi, Herricks High School, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; Connor Abbott, Hopkins School, New Haven, Conn.; Arjun Kapoor, The Wheatley School, Old Westbury, N.Y.
  • Kelly Chen, Stuyvesant High School, New York, N.Y.; Impreet Singh, Francis Lewis High School, Fresh Meadows, N.Y.
  • Michael Green, George W. Hewlett High School, Hewlett, N.Y.; Ayman Halder, George W. Hewlett High School, Hewlett, N.Y.; Stephen Ng, George W. Hewlett High School, Hewlett, N.Y.
  • Margarita Ren, Hunter College High School, New York, N.Y.; Yinge Zhao, The Dalton School, New York, N.Y.

The Siemens Competition
Launched in 1998, the Siemens Competition is the nation's premier science research competition for high school students.  A record 2,440 students registered for this year's competition and a total of 1,599 projects were submitted for consideration.  Three hundred thirty-one students were named Semifinalists and 100 were named Regional Finalists.  Entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists at six leading research universities that host the regional competitions:  California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Notre Dame and The University of Texas at Austin.

For news and announcements about the Regional Competitions and the National Finals, follow us on Twitter @SFoundation (#SiemensComp) and like us on Facebook at SiemensFoundation. A live webcast of the National Finalist Awards Presentation will also be available online at 9:30am EST on December 10: www.siemens-foundation.org.

The Siemens Foundation
The Siemens Foundation provides more than $7 million annually in support of educational initiatives in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the United States. Its signature programs include the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, a STEM research competition for high school students, Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, a sustainability challenge which encourages K-12 students to develop innovative green solutions for environmental issues and the Siemens STEM Academy, a national educator professional development program designed to support educators in their efforts to foster student achievement in STEM fields. By supporting outstanding students and educators today, and recognizing the mentors and schools that inspire STEM educational excellence, the Foundation helps nurture tomorrow's scientists and engineers. The Foundation's mission is based on the culture of innovation, research and educational support that is the hallmark of Siemens' U.S. companies. For further information, visit www.siemens-foundation.org or follow @sfoundation.

The College Board
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of more than 6,000 of the world's leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT® and the Advanced Placement Program®. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools.  For further information, visit www.collegeboard.org.

Video and photos of winners available on request.

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