Five Ward Melville seniors are among 61 on Long Island and 300 nationwide to be named semifinalists in the annual Intel Science Talent Search, the school district announced Wednesday.
Rocco Morra, Shubha Sekar, Anna Sato, Jesse Xing, and Jack Zhou have each netted a $1,000 scholarship for their achievements, and each has the chance to reach the finals of the competition, to be announced later this month.
"The whole group is very strong and very diversified this year," said Dr. George Baldo, "We had very exciting projects, covering nuclear physics to applied math to solid medicine and new medical tools. ... The ones who were selected this year have stellar projects, and are going to go on and contribute greatly to their different fields of research."
On Wednesday, just minutes after learning of their achievement in the Intel competition, the students reacted with excitement.
"These past few years, I've been putting a lot of effort into my science research class, and I think it's paying off," said Morra, 17, of South Setauket. His chemistry-related project was mentored by Stony Brook professor Iwao Ojima and Joshua Seitz.
Zhou agreed, saying his project has even had an influence on his college plans.
"It's a really great honor to be a part of this," said Zhou, 17, of Stony Brook, who was mentored by professor Jonathan Liu. "My project is in the field of bioengineering, and I will major in biomedical engineering in the fall."
Xing, 18, of Stony Brook, was mentored by professors Benjamin Hsiao and Benjamin Chu, and Tianyuan Wu. Xing said he was surprised to be named a semifinalist.
"It's very overwhelming, but it feels good," he said.
Anna Sato, a 2010 regional finalist and 2011 semifinalist in the Siemens-Westinghouse competition, was mentored by Ran Wang and professors Hsiao and Chu for her materials science-based project. Her project, in which she worked on filtration of radioactive isotopes from water, was motivated by the recent earthquake in Japan.
"It's a lot of time and effort, a lot of thinking. ... My time was well spent," Sato said. "Just getting the award isn't what it's all about, but some recognition was good."
Sekar was mentored by professor Rob Johnson for her computer science-based project.
The students raved about the InSTAR program, which has yielded over $1 million in scholarship awards to its students and more than $125,000 in grants to the school itself since the program's inception in 1998. The program produced nine Intel semifinalists in its first year, hitting a peak of 13 Intel semifinalists in 2007-08. The program pairs students with experts in the various sciences from places like Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory.
"It definitely helped me find what I'm interested in," Xing said. "It especially piqued my interest in science research."
Morra called InSTAR "pretty great."
"We all enter the class when we're in 10th grade. We go from year to year together, going through the same struggles and successes," he said. "I think we are a pretty tight knit family after three years."