Seven seniors at Byram Hills High School were named scholars in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search, an honor that recognizes the high-level, independent research they conducted in the high school’s three-year Authentic Science Research Program.
The students who earned the distinction were Samantha Abbruzzese, Alan Chang, Rachel Chernoff, Alessandra Colella, Ethan Jacobs, Brent Perlman and Jonah Schwam.
The students were overjoyed when they learned the news on January 9, hugging and cheering along with their proud teachers. They were among the 300 students selected as scholars from nearly 2,000 entrants. Each scholar was awarded $2,000 and the high school received $14,000 for STEAM education.
Two weeks later, Byram Hills celebrated again when Brent was named one of 40 finalists who will compete for the top honors in Washington, D.C.
This year, Byram Hills had the highest number of scholars in Westchester County and the third highest in the state. In the 30 years the school has competed in the Science Talent Search, Byram Hills has had 111 scholars; 20 of them have gone on to become finalists.
The strong showing reflects the school’s commitment to fostering curiosity and creating new knowledge, Principal Christopher Walsh said.
“We are incredibly proud of all of our seniors who submitted projects to the Regeneron Science Talent Search,” Mr. Walsh said. “This has been an incredible journey for them and one that cannot be duplicated in many traditional high school courses. These students have all added to the collective knowledge of humanity, which can never be taken away from them. I am so happy for the seven seniors who were named scholars by Regeneron.”
In March, Brent will travel to the nation’s capital, where he will display his work and undergo a rigorous judging process. The finalists will compete for $1.8 million in awards, with a top prize of $250,000.
In his biological engineering research, Brent induced photosynthesis in human cells for the first time by isolating chloroplasts, the photosynthetic components of plant cells, from baby spinach leaves. He cultured the chloroplasts with human cells and conducted photosynthesis.
The ability of human cells to photosynthesize allows them to generate oxygen, which they are normally unable to produce. The oxygen promotes healthy tissue and organ development and growth.
Brent's research has applications in the engineering of functional organs in a lab; the treatment of heart attacks, strokes, and cancer; the delivery of biopharmaceuticals to affected human cells in the body; and even space travel.
“Brent is a true scientist,” said Stephanie Greenwald, director of the Byram Hills Dr. Robert Pavlica Authentic Science Research Program. “From the moment I met him he asked thoughtful questions, took enormous risks with his work and did all of this with great kindness and appreciation for those around him. We are all so proud of his accomplishment.”
Brent is excited to compete as a finalist.
“It’s thrilling to be recognized by such a prestigious competition, and I am thankful for the opportunity to share my research with such a large audience,” he said. “I’m eager for my work to be displayed in Washington as this recognition increases the chances that its applications could one day help improve the lives of people suffering from a variety of debilitating diseases.”
Mr. Walsh noted Brent’s dedication to his research, adding: “His work has the potential to have such a huge impact on society and yet he is still as humble as ever. Congratulations to the entire Authentic Science Research Program.”
The talent search, which is run by Society for Science & the Public, calls itself the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Winners have gone on to win top science and math honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 13 National Medals of Science.
Here’s a look at our other scholars’ work:
Samantha Abbruzzese: Samantha investigated the development of neurons from a mouse model of Huntington's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. She determined the impact that different gene-regulating proteins have on these neurons. The findings of her study could be used to develop a therapeutic approach for patients with Huntington's disease.
Alan Chang: Alan’s work focused on understanding how a specific tumor suppressor gene mutation promotes cancer progression, an important step in improving the development of cancer treatments. He programmed a novel computational method of analyzing cells using machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, and ultimately found several ways in which the tumor grew faster via immune evasion.
Rachel Chernoff: Rachel's novel study used ischemic preconditioning, a research technique that protects the brain from further deterioration during a future stroke by depriving the brain of its blood supply in small amounts for brief periods. She also noticed behavioral differences after ischemic preconditioning between male and female mice, which may point to a hormonal difference. Together, her results lay the groundwork for the use of ischemic preconditioning as a potential preventative technique to reduce the damage from strokes.
Alessandra Colella: Using novel statistical measures, Alessandra investigated if variable responses in neuropsychological tests could be an indicator of the fogginess known as chemo-brain. Her findings could lead to a more accurate way of measuring cognitive decline in cancer patients.
Ethan Jacobs: Ethan mapped the population of river otter, beaver, muskrat, and raccoon species in three rivers in the Northeast. He used a novel method based on environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis to detect excreted DNA in collected water samples. His results help to further develop overall eDNA-based research, provide data for the distribution of mammal species in multiple rivers, and enhance the time and cost efficiency of population mapping methodology.
Jonah Schwam: Duchenne muscular dystrophy, caused by a point mutation on the DMD gene, leads to progressive decay in muscle tissue; however, it remains unknown which muscle cell type is most affected. Jonah used a novel CRISPR gene editing system to create modified muscle tissue consisting of dystrophic mature muscle cells and cured muscle stem cells. This model demonstrated the relative importance of muscle stem cells in regenerating dystrophic muscle tissue, optimizing all future gene therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.