Huntington High School Student Named Siemens Regional Finalist
The Huntington High School science research program is walking on “cloud nine” after senior Holly Flores was named a regional finalist in the Siemens Foundation Competition in Math, Science & Technology.
Huntington senior Juli Coraor was named a semi-finalist in the competition, which bills itself as the “nation’s most coveted teen science prize.” Ms. Flores and Ms. Coraor have made a habit of winning science awards, but the duo has reached new heights this year.
“I am so honored to be chosen as a regional finalist,” Ms. Flores said. “Long Island, and the rest of New York is definitely one of the biggest research cores in the world and every year increasingly younger students are researching at professional levels. There are so many talented students out there who have done such truly amazing projects that I simply cannot believe I was chosen to be one of the 13 kids selected from New York State.”
“It’s hard to find the words to describe the accomplishments of Holly and Juli,” said Lori Kenny, the Huntington teacher who heads the high school science research program. “They are so driven and filled with excitement it’s contagious.”
With just 96 regional finalists in the country, Ms. Flores is in rarefied company. An unprecedented 2,436 students registered for the competition and record 2,541 submitted projects.
Ms. Flores’ award winning project is titled “A Study of the Extracellular Matrix in Dental Pulp Stem Cell Differentiation with and without Static Magnetic Fields.” The research project was conducted at Garcia MRSEC Engineering at Polymer Interfaces under the watchful eyes of two Stony Brook University mentor-scientists.
“Basically I engineered bone by differentiating dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs),” Ms. Flores said. “However, the focus of the project was to manipulate the external environment where the cells were growing and to then characterize the extracellular matrix (ECM), which is basically everything in a tissue which is not a cell. It is produced by the cells. The ECM is instrumental in regulating cell growth and functions through cell-matrix interactions, cytoskeletal organization, and integrin-mediated signaling.”
Ms. Flores gets excited when discussing science, especially her research project. “Everything about the ECM controls the way the cells behave, particularly its shape, size, stiffness and protein composition,” she said. “Understanding how the scaffold environment determines the size, organization and protein composition of the ECM can be applied to engineering a scaffold specialized to induce DPSCs growth and differentiation. The factors we used to differentiate the cells were: The chemistry of a polymer scaffold, a static magnetic field, and a chemically inducing media. By creating four samples of different combinations of the factors, we were able to find the best combination to differentiate the stem cells, and then characterize the ECM and its behavior in the various environments.”
Participants in the Siemens competition can enter as individuals or as part of a team. The finalists and semi-finalists are exceptional at multi-tasking, conducting research in local labs, maintaining high grades in the most challenging courses, holding down leadership positions in their schools and often continuing to pursue their athletic, artistic and musical interests.