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Tumor Suppressor Protein And Brain Signaling Research Pays Off For New York Students With Siemens Competition Regional Win At Carnegie Mellon University

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 17, 2012 /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.  A biophysics research project on brain signals earned top honors and the $3,000 Individual scholarship for Jiayi Peng of Chappaqua, New York.  Research on the tumor suppressing protein COP-1 won the $6,000 Team scholarship for Jeremy Appelbaum of Woodmere, New York, and William Gil and Allen Shin of Valley Stream, New York.

The students presented their research this weekend to a panel of judges from Carnegie Mellon University, host of the Region 4 Finals. They are now invited to present their work on a national stage at the National Finals in Washington, DC, December 1-4, 2012, 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 students have invested time, energy and talent in tackling challenging scientific research at a young age," said Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation.  "The recognition they have won today demonstrates that engagement in STEM is an investment well worth making."

The Winning Individual

Jiayi Peng, a senior at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, won the individual category and a $3,000 college scholarship for studying critical avalanches of neural activity that are the physiological bases for actions, thoughts and emotions.

Jiayi's project, A Cellular Automaton Model for Critical Dynamics in Neuronal Networks, could help determine how distinct neurological mechanisms can differentiate a healthy brain from one with a neurological disorder such as epilepsy, autism or Alzheimer's disease.

"Jiayi's model utilizes a remarkably simply feedback mechanism that allows it to reach and maintain a critical state," said competition judge Dr. Markus Deserno, Associate Professor of Physics, Carnegie Mellon University. "Since critical avalanches are often missing from brains with disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and schizophrenia, Jiayi's contribution also sheds new light onto these neurological conditions.  Someday, her work might help us find a treatment for these ailments."

Jiayi is a National Merit Semifinalist and has received Moody's Math Challenge National Honorable Mention and the US Navy and Marine Corps Science Award.  A pianist, Jiayi has won an award in the Golden Key Piano competition.  Jiayi is actively involved in community service.  As a tenth grader, she founded Kits4Kids, a club dedicated to raising money for children, especially girls, to continue their education.  Jiayi plans to major in physics or mathematics and aspires to be a researcher or professor in one of these fields.  She was mentored by Dr. John M. Beggs, Associate Professor of Biophysics, Indiana University. 

The Winning Team

Jeremy Appelbaum, William Gil and Allen Shin, seniors at George W. Hewlett High School in Hewlett, New York, won the team category and will share a $6,000 scholarship for research that may help scientists better understand COP-1, a protein that acts as a tumor suppressor in humans and controls light-dependent development in plants.  

In their project, COP1 Arrests Photomorphogenesis in Dark Grown Gametophytes of Ceratopteris richardii; A Study of COP1 in Cryptogams, the team established a new model system to research   COP-1.  Their research may provide a way to more easily study the function of plant COP-1, further helping us understand this multifunctional protein.

"An especially impressive aspect of this project is that it was conceived, designed and carried out entirely with the resources available in the team's high school laboratory," said competition judge Dr. Javier Lopez, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University. "Down the road, the team's research may shed light on tumor suppressing proteins."

Jeremy is a member of his school's newspaper, volleyball team, and a student tutor.  He would like to major in biology or chemistry and aspires to be a physician.

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