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Ossining Students Named Intel Semifinalists

This year's winners bring the number of Intel Semifinalists from Ossining to 48 since 2001.
This year's winners bring the number of Intel Semifinalists from Ossining to 48 since 2001.

Three Ossining High School students were named semifinalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search Wednesday, continuing a 14-year tradition of achievement for the district’s science research program. This year’s recognition brings to 48 the number of Ossining students named as semifinalists since 2001.

“This is an outstanding achievement for our students, our teachers, our administrators, our high school and our district,” said Superintendent Raymond Sanchez. “The entire Ossining community celebrates the success of these students and the hard work and determination that led to it.”

This year’s winners – Abigail Kamen, Adam Illowsky and Caitlin Piccirillo-Stosser – studied topics including plant genetics, the cognitive after-effects of chemotherapy and the brain function of NFL players who have suffered multiple concussions.

All of the students are members of Ossining’s Fundamentals of Science Research Program, which has 90 participants in grades 10, 11 and 12. Two science research teachers, Valerie Holmes and Angelo Piccirillo, oversee the students who also work with noted scientists in universities and research labs.

“The former baseball commentator Phil Rizzuto once said that every baseball player is a hall of famer for one day but the real hall of famers do it day in and day out,” said Piccirillo, whose daughter was among the students named. “I’m very happy that we’ve been able to place students in Intel every year since 2001 despite the increasing competitiveness of the program. One should never take winning Intel for granted.”

Kamen, who hopes to be an investigative journalist one day, studied the cognitive side effects of chemotherapy on breast cancer patients. Kamen said she knew that many breast cancer survivors like her mother felt forgetful and less able to concentrate after receiving chemotherapy. She said she wanted to raise awareness of so-called chemo brain.

“My mom is an architect so little details are important,” said Kamen, who interviewed patients and clinicians to assess perceptions about chemotherapy. “I think this is an important issue for women, especially those with high performance jobs.”

Illowsky was the first researcher to look at whether there was a genetic component to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease affecting people who have suffered multiple concussions. Working with a researcher, Illowsky was able to study postmortem brain slices from diseased football players.

Illowsky found that people with the H1 form of the MAPT gene had increased severity of CTE, while those with the H2 form of the gene had less severity. A runner and baseball player, Illowsky said he was drawn to the topic because of the concussion epidemic in sports today.

“I just want to do all I can to help increase our understanding of head trauma not just in professional sports but in high school and kids sports as well,” he said, adding that he hoped to someday work in the legal or business arena to improve safeguards against head injuries in sports.

Piccirillo-Stosser worked at The New York Botanical Garden investigating the evolution of a family of plants that includes eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and tobacco. She studied the FRUITFULL gene, which plays a role in whether fruits are fleshy like tomatoes or dry like tobacco. Piccirillo-Stosser, whose mother is a genetic counselor, said the topic combined her interests in genetics and plants.

“The ultimate goal is to increase food production for a greater population,” Piccirillo-Stosser said, adding that her research is “just laying the groundwork for what may happen in the future.”

Like her fellow honorees, Piccirillo-Stosser said she was excited and surprised to have been named a semifinalist, given the high quality of research by her peers in Ossining. “There are people who are just as accomplished who weren’t named Intel Semifinalists. To some degree, I think it is luck and what the judges are looking for on that particular day.”

The Intel Science Talent Search, formerly known as the Westinghouse contest, is the nation’s oldest student science research competition. It is funded by the Intel Corp., a California-based computer chip company. Semifinalists win $1,000 each and a chance to compete for national scholarships, including a top prize of $100,000 while their high schools receive $1,000 matching awards. Forty finalists will be announced in January and they will receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., where the top 10 winners will be named in March.

The Ossining semifinalists and the formal titles of their projects are listed below:

Adam Illowsky

 MAPT Is Associated with Increased Clinical and Neuropathological Severity of

 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

 Abigail Kamen

 Determining Cancer Patient Awareness of Cognitive Impairment Secondary to Chemotherapy

 Caitlin Piccirillo-Stosser

 The Evolution and Function of the FRUITFULL Gene in the Nightshade Family (Solanaceae)

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