Yarim Lee places as semifinalist for Intel Science Talent Search competition

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Intel recently announced the semifinalists of the Intel Science Talent Search (STS)  2015. Senior Yarim Lee was one of those 300 semifinalists, selected for her research on Alzheimer’s disease.

The Intel STS is one the nation’s most prestigious science research competitions, aimed at discovering the brightest young scientists in America. Every year it awards high school seniors for their groundbreaking, original research.

Alzheimer’s is a deadly neurodegenerative disease that is incredibly difficult to study since scientists remain unclear about its cause. “It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack in the dark,” Yarim described. She based her project on the hypothesis that the aggregation of beta amyloid–a deadly protein that forms plaque–causes Alzheimer’s disease. She hypothesized that these plaques initiate neuro-death. She’s developed a drug candidate to terminate beta amyloid aggregation and the formation of plaque, which she hopes will stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. A cure for Alzheimer’s–that’s ultimately the goal.

“Alzheimer’s is becoming an increasingly more prevalent problem,” Assistant Principal of Science, Math and Technology Susan Brustein expressed. “It’s not just among the very elderly now.”

“For her to work on this, it hits home,” chemistry teacher Philip Porzio explained. “My grandfather had Alzheimer’s. He would remember who I was sometimes, other times not. My parents would tell me what a great man he was, but I couldn’t see that all the time. But when I did, it was amazing.” For Yarim and many others, finding a cure for Alzheimers stems from a personal motivation. The disease has tremendous implications for the quality of life of individuals affected and their family members serving as caretakers.

The Intel Foundation awarded each semifinalist $1,000, with an additional $1,000 going to his or her school.

Ms. Brustein commented on the success of THHS’s science program:“With the passion that each of the teachers brings, we act as a family that works together to provide students opportunities. She takes everything the school offers.” Having taken advanced topics in science, AP psychology, organic chemistry, AP biology, and, of course, science research, Yarim has shown that love for science can exist in a humanities school. “Townsend Harris has been the foundation and springboard to her future endeavors,” Mr. Porzio remarked.

Yarim has won numerous awards from competitions, such as the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and the New York City Science and Engineering Fair (NYCSEF), for her biochemistry research. She discovered her passion for science and Alzheimer’s research upon coming to THHS, and seeks to help humanity through research. “I always thought science was about memorizing cold, hard facts. But Ms. Oberlander’s teachings changed my view on science and pulled me into a new world that I fell in love with.”

Mr. Porzio recalled one of his early experiences with Yarim, where a class assignment was to produce a bubble. “She developed a bubble made of animal protein. No one has ever gone that out of the box. To be able to go that out of the box showed she had a predisposition to science.”

Yarim has worked for three years with Dr. Adam Profit at York College’s chemistry department. There would be days which she would work from after school until 9 PM, and she has also dedicated her summers to research.  “The more I did research, the more I fell in love with it. Research helped me realize my place in society. I realized the full potential of science and how science can be used to help society.”

She found that a major difficulty in research was dealing with failure. Fortunately, her passion and goals motivated her to keep going. She learned an important life lesson, as well:“Science research taught me that failure is a step closer to success actually. You fail but if you reflect back, you can see where exactly you made a flaw and then step forward on a better path.”

Yarim will be attending Columbia University next fall and plans on continuing research in biochemistry and neuroscience. She chose Columbia because of the school’s focus and motivation in global research.  “I know other institutions do research but Columbia’s research efforts resonate with my idea of ‘science is humanities.’”

After having dealing with her fair share of challenges, Yarim has advice to students pursuing research: “Just like there’s darkness with light, there’s success with failure. Always think outside the box, sometimes the answer might be right there in front of you! Sometimes, you will have to think a little further with the question, ‘Why?’ That question helped me get through a lot of failures.

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