Girls swept a prestigious high school science competition for the first time Monday, winning top prizes of $100,000 scholarships for their work on potential tuberculosis cures and bone growth in zebrafish.
It was the first time girls had ever won the grand prizes in both the team and individual divisions of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.
Isha Jain, a senior at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pa., won the individual prize for her biology project on bone growth in zebrafish fins.
Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff, seniors at John F. Kennedy High School in Plainview, N.Y., won the top team prize for their research into tuberculosis treatments.
“All I can say is, I don’t know what to say,” Marinoff said when the winners were announced at New York University.
The entries were judged by a panel of scientists led by Joseph Taylor, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics and a professor emeritus at Princeton University.
Five other individuals and five teams also won scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
The Siemens competition was begun in 1998 to recognize America’s best math and science students. Finalists were chosen at regional competitions and flown to New York for a weekend that included bowling and a Broadway show before Monday’s awards ceremony. The contest has also been known as the Siemens Westinghouse Competition.
Jain, whose work has already been published in the journal Developmental Dynamics, said she chose to study zebrafish because they are a good animal model.
“They’re simple creatures, and if you amputate their fins they regenerate,” she said.
She said her research should lead to understanding bone growth in other vertebrates along with bone disorders in humans.
After tearing up during her brief acceptance speech, she ran and jumped into her father’s arms.
Schlossberger and Marinoff said their research could lead to more effective treatments for drug-resistant tuberculosis.
“After synthesizing these drugs we need to then go back to modify them and optimize them to maximize their effectiveness,” Marinoff said.
The awards are presented by the Siemens Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG.
Other finalists’ projects ranged from studying circadian-clock rhythms in bread mold to designing a system to ensure that ground beef is cooked safely in commercial kitchens.
The students, most of whom attend public high schools that lack advanced labs, have been mentored by faculty and graduate students at local colleges.
Jain said she spent so much time in the lab at Lehigh University in Bethlehem that her friends call her “fish girl.”