Harrisites present research at Intel, Yarim Lee wins cash prize

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Yarim Lee with her award-winning project. Photo courtesy of Yarim Lee.

From May 15-17, sophomore Yarim Lee and senior Sahi Thapi competed with over 1,500 high school students from more than 70 countries for prizes and scholarships at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix, Arizona. Yarim, who was also the youngest student in the history of Townsend Harris to qualify for the ISEF, earned the “Second Award” in the Biochemistry category.

The ISEF, which Sahi described as “the Olympics of the science world,” is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, where students are judged on their independent science research.

Yarim’s project focused on using organic synthesis, a process in which complex carbon-containing compounds are made from simpler substances. It shows how a mediator protein could prevent the accumulation of beta amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This means that I can eventually stop the formation of plaques and thus stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” Yarim said of her project.

Yarim won $1,500 that she plans to use towards her research.

“I just hope everyone knows that they are all winners,” she said.  “Many of my teammates were able to win some awards as well, and I’m very proud of them.”

Sahi entered with a different project in the field of Medicine and Health Sciences. “My research identified a group of proteins known as galectins that play a vital role in the progression of ovarian cancer. In their absence we as scientists have the ability to cure ovarian cancer.”

Sahi started her research back in 2010 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, continuing her project until December 2012. “To prepare for the competition, I’ve been constantly coached by Ms. Cooper, Ms. Brustein, and Mr. Porzio in presenting and writing.”

She says, “The connections I made at ISEF will probably stay with me through my professional career. I just feel blessed to have had the experience.”

Yarim’s journey began with her unrequited love for science, which she credits to both of her parents being organic chemists.

“Ever since I was in the 4th grade, I spent all my summers and after school in the lab,” she recalled.

Yarim began her current project in the summer of 2012. After getting to the finals in the New York Science and Engineering Fair (NYCSEF), which qualified her for ISEF, Yarim knew her project was something special.

She said, “I felt like I should just give it a try but after that, my motivation [for entering] was to show the world that I might actually be able to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Both Yarim and Sahi dedicated a lot of time to their projects, especially after the NYCSEF.

“For the final round I practiced at least 500 times and everyday after school,” said Yarim. “I had to work for hours on my poster and presentation.”

Yarim and Sahi agree that the ISEF was the experience of a lifetime.

“Every project presented a novel concept in its field and it was quite incredible to see the contributions that mere high school students can make to the scientific world!” said Sahi.

Yarim added, “Anyone can be a scientist, it all sprouts from curiosity and from there, your passion takes over and you can be successful!”