Ien Li and Crystal Zheng Named 2015 Intel STS Finalists


To many it is no surprise that Jericho High School’s science research program has spawned yet another batch of Intel finalists. The Intel Science Talent Search is the nation’s most prestigious science competition for high school researchers. For 74 years, the Intel competition has inspired thousands of young scientists to delve deeper into the most pressing medical and sociological questions of their time. Every year, almost 2,000 of America’s brightest adolescents conduct original research in various scientific fields in the hopes of being named one of 40 national finalists.  This year two JHS students, Ien Li and Crystal Zheng, were named national finalists for their individual research projects.

Li’s project is entitled Statistical Modeling of Major Depression: Bridging the Gap between Brain and Behavior. Li said, “As teenagers in a highly competitive high school, we all witness the daily effects of stress and anxiety on the physical and emotional well-being of our peers. From psychiatric literature, I was startled to learn that our largely incomplete understanding of depression has resulted in low rates of treatment response and illness recovery. Drawing from my 3 years of neuroimaging research experience, I hoped to tackle in this project the challenge of elucidating the neuroscience underlying depressive symptomatology. My study helped elucidate the different biological roots of specific depressive symptoms. I hope my study contributes to the field’s pursuit for the fundamental neuroscience knowledge needed to inform psychiatric drug development and therapeutics.”

In addition to being awarded cash prizes, on March 11th Li and Zheng met President Obama, whom Zheng described as “very easygoing” and Li called “charismatic.”

Zheng’s project was entitled BDNF VAL66MET Induces Endocytosis-dependent Dendritic Spine Collapse via proNGF-like Collapse Mechanism. She said, “I have been interested in neuroscience since I was very young. Over the years, I have noticed that the media has become increasingly preoccupied by war and mass shootings. I realized that one of the most notable consequences is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress and other anxiety/fear-related disorders among the survivors. Thus desiring to be able to make a difference and help, my interest was piqued for conducting research into the molecular basis underlying these neuropsychiatric disorders. By further investigating and understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying disease onset and progression, I hope more effective novel treatments and therapies may be developed.”

The JHS science research program is spearheaded by Dr. McCalla, a recipient of the 2010 U. S. Presidential Scholars Teachers Recognition Award. Dr. McCalla is known in the Jericho community as a diligent mentor who is as dedicated to science research as she is to her students. Her long hours and unwavering commitment have helped establish Jericho’s science research department as one of the most prominent in the national science research community. Dr. McCalla has provided hundreds of Jericho students with the tools and support necessary to become award-winning researchers. When asked what her secret to success was, she stated, “I think that I expect as much from myself as I do from them. I think that if I can tell them that they have to push harder then therefore I must push harder too. I think that’s why we work so well together. I take on as much pressure as I put on them and I honestly feel that when they win, I won. I’m so happy that they’re happy when they win that it makes this whole process work.

This extraordinary commitment to science at JHS is felt at every level. The science research program’s triumphs would not be possible without the support of Science and Technology Curriculum Associate Mr. Brian Cummings who believes that “to be the head of the science and technology education department of, in my opinion, the best school in the country is an incredible job.” He said he works hard to support a strong science research program. “I want Crystal and Ien to attain their dreams. I want them to be as successful on the next level as they’ve been at Jericho. That’s exactly how I try to do my job, to position everyone for success,” he said.

Dr. McCalla frames the success of Li and Zheng in larger terms. “We may be in competitive arenas, but we are not competing against one another. We are not just doing this for us, we are doing it for the benefit of science.”

One Comment
  • Bela Kirpalani
    14 May 2015 at 11:23 am -

    Awesome article, Rebecca!


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