• Rachael Roizer

Two GHS Seniors Named Finalists in 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search

Updated: May 3

Cover photo credit: Hannah Goldenberg and Edgar Sosa

For their dedication to science research, GHS seniors Hannah Goldenberg and Edgar Sosa were named as Top 40 Finalists in the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search (RSTS). RSTS is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors, awarding finalists with $25,000.

Goldenberg and Sosa were selected from a process that narrows 1,760 applicants from 611 high schools across the United States and 10 other countries. From this group, 300 students are named RSTS Scholars, and, from that group, 40 students become finalists. Among the components considered in students’ applications are a research report, transcripts, letters of recommendation and supplemental essays.

This highly selective process indicates the competitive and extraordinary nature of these students’ projects. From finding inspiration to conducting research, the hard work that Goldenberg and Sosa put into their projects reaped astounding rewards.

Goldenberg’s project is “Linking Continued Exposure to E-Cigarette Vapor Constituents with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.” Goldenberg said that she spent the past two and a half years studying the chemicals within electronic cigarette vapor, particularly propylene glycol, “a chemical in windshield washer fluid,” and nicotine, “which poses a lot of addictive issues.” She has also studied dust steel, metallic waste that “has been linked to ‘popcorn lungs,’ the irreversible scarring of the lungs.”

Through her research, Goldenberg also created a 3D printed lung model to demonstrate where e-cigarette vapor typically resides. During her second year of research, she studied human bronchial epithelial cells, which primarily function as defensive barriers within the lungs to maintain airway function. By comparing “the expression of genes that have previously shown a link between tobacco smoking,” Goldenberg has determined a link between vaping and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Her research has immense applications as COPD is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. With little regulation on e-cigarettes, Goldenberg’s findings indicate that changes must be made to increase transparency from e-cigarette companies and advocate for awareness of the consequences of vaping. With the use of e-cigarettes becoming more common among teenagers, understanding the product’s physiological effects will be crucial to protecting adolescents from long-term respiratory issues.

Goldenberg being honored at a science fair in Albuquerque, NM (Photo credit: Hannah Goldenberg)

As Goldenberg noted, the popularity of e-cigarettes reflects how people first responded to tobacco cigarettes, unaware of their health concerns. Goldenberg said, “When cigarettes were first introduced, they were very mainstream. Down the road, a lot of studies were coming out, but at that point it was kind of too late because people had already begun developing lung cancer, COPD and other respiratory problems.” Goldenberg is now continuing her research using fruit flies and clinical studies and is currently working on a campaign with the American Lung Association.

Another one of the RSTS finalists, Sosa, researched “Metal Oxide Nanoparticle Suppression of Coffee Rust Using an Alternaria, Stomata-Sporulating Model Fungus.” Sosa created a nanoparticle spray to combat coffee rust due to a fungus that has been killing coffee for several years. Nanoparticle spray utilizes different chemicals and elements to disperse on organisms to limit or promote growth. Sosa said he found “the most promising results” working with copper and hopes to continue his research using the fungus itself.

Sosa conducting research with his nanoparticle spray (Photo credit: Edgar Sosa)

Sosa was inspired to conduct his research after his family lost their coffee farm due to this type of fungus. After moving from Guatemala and then attending GHS, Sosa said that he finally had the resources to conduct research and find answers that would help his family and others facing the same issue.

“It’s been a great experience doing research on my own because you really get to know what you’re capable of,” Sosa said.

Through RSTS, students gain the opportunity to demonstrate their creative problem solving as well as their profound scientific knowledge. Such a program encourages out-of-the-box thinking and awards students, like Goldenberg and Sosa, who show outstanding discoveries and potential. As Sosa said, “It’s about being curious, being dedicated; it’s not only about being smart or having the tools.”

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