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HHS Science Research Students Earn Top Honors at Science Fairs

Arwen O’Brien ‘21 Qualifies for Regeneron Competition

Harrison High School Senior Arwen Fernandez O’Brien finished in the top 15 projects at the New York State Science and Engineering Fair and qualified for Regeneron ISEF 2021 (International Science and Engineering Fair). This is the first time a Harrison student has qualified for this international fair in 3 years.  Seniors Tochi Onwuasoanya placed second and Larissa Iraj placed third in the competition among top student scientists from high schools across New York State.

The New York State Science and Engineering Fair (NYSSEF) and Westchester Science & Engineering Fair (WESEF) provides statewide and regional forums to showcase the outstanding research by high school students. Both science fairs encourage students to participate in hands-on science research during their high school careers.

Harrison High School Science Research students performed well at the regional and state fairs this year and earned many awards. The Harrison High School Science Research program is open to students in grades 10, 11, and 12. The program supports student participation in authentic and original scientific research. Students work with scientists and professionals within their chosen area of interest to conduct independent research in mathematics, life science, physical science, psychology, or the social sciences. Students submit their work in science fairs, where they are judged alongside other top student research projects.  

The following students have been recognized for their outstanding research:


The following students were recognized for their outstanding research.

New York State Science and Engineering Fair

Arwen Fernandez O’Brien - Regeneron ISEF Winner

Tochi Onwuasoanya - 2nd Place

Larissa Iraj - 3rd Place


Westchester Science & Engineering Fair Best in Category Awards

Larissa Iraj: 1st Place - Medicine and Health

Tochi Onwuasoanya: 2nd Place - Animal Sciences

Julina Paruta: 2nd Place - Medicine and Health

Maria Saes: 3rd Place - Behavior

Madison Schiro: 3rd Place - Animal Sciences

Morgan Remeza: 3rd Place - Math

Roya Azar: 4th Place - Cellular & Molecular Biology

Lauren Davidson: 4th Place - Cellular & Molecular Biology

Bailey Fisher: 4th Place - Engineering

Hannah Karkout: 4th Place - Medicine & Health

Jillian Williams: 4th Place - Computational Biology/Bioinformatics


Special Awards

David M. Holmes WESEF Engineering Innovation Award: Bailey Fisher

Community Impact Award: Jillian Williams

Future of Medicine Award: Larissa Iraj

Excellence in Medical Research Award: Arwen Fernandez O’Brien

Innovations in Biological Sciences Research Award: Tyler Burden

NOAA Taking the Pulse of the Planet AwardMaddy Stagg




Arwen Fernandez O’Brien

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years


WESEF: Excellence in Medical Research Award

Research Title: Phenotypic Behavioral Expression of Different Genetic Lines of Drosophila melanogaster as measured by the Negative Geotaxis Assay & Their Response to Lithium Chloride: A Pharmacogenomics Study

Abstract: Annually, adverse drug reactions cause 1.5 million hospitalizations. In practice, medicine is often prescribed by trial and error to determine the best drug and dosage. Genotypes influence the level of enzymes that metabolize medications, meaning different dosages and drugs are required for effective treatment. Pharmacogenomics studies this relationship. Many studies focus research on the Cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzyme system, as CYP450s are the major enzymes that metabolize medications. Few studies have explored the relationship between CYP450s and the metabolization of antidepressants. This led to the research on how genetic makeup in Drosophila melanogaster affects response to the same dosage of known mood stabilizer, lithium chloride. This experiment consisted of three parts. Part 1 involved a genetic screen designed to identify mutations in CYP450 genes that could result in quantifiable differences in behavioral responses that correlate with motivation, used when modeling depression in flies. In Part 2, genetic crosses were used to introduce mutations in Trh[01] into the individual CYP40 mutant backgrounds. Trh[01] is a major enzyme required for serotonin production, a compound known to influence motivation. In Part 3, experimental and control genotypes were given 50mM of LiCl and their motivation levels were tested. The four genetic backgrounds had significant differences in their response to the same dosage of LiCl (p<.05) indicating that genetic makeup does influence response to medication. This implies that D. melanogaster is a good system for pharmacogenomics studies and could be used to expand our knowledge about the roles of CYP450s in antidepressant treatment.


Tochi Onwuasoanya              

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

NYSSEF: 2nd Place, WESEF: 2nd Place

Research Title: The Effect of Vitamin D3 on the physical performance of Drosophila Melanogaster in the Negative Geotaxis Assay. 

Abstract: This study investigated how supplemental Vitamin D3 affected the performance of male and female Drosophila melanogaster. Vitamin D3 has been correlated with improved performance in humans but few studies have explored the effect of supplemental Vitamin D. Drosophila melanogaster possesses over 70% similarity with human genes and shares similar metabolic functions making them ideal for the study. A dose-response study was conducted using 25mcg, 2.5mcg, 0.25mcg, 0.025mcg, and 0.0025mcg of Vitamin D3. 0.0mcg represented the control group. The negative geotaxis assay was performed to test the natural tendency of flies to move against gravity when agitated and hence measure the locomotor capacities of the flies. In all concentrations male Drosophila melanogaster had a higher percentage of flies cross the 8cm line (p<0.01).In all concentrations, the time for the first male Drosophila melanogaster to cross the 8cm was faster than the females (p<0.04). The 2.5 mcg group performed best overall in both male and female groups compared to other groups. Additionally, in general, as the Vitamin D concentration increased so did the percentage of flies that crossed the 8cm line in the negative geotaxis assay. All the experimental groups performed significantly better than the control group (p<0.01). The improved performance in D.melanogaster suggests studying the effect in humans; Supplemental Vitamin D may have uses for increasing physical performance, and correcting for Vitamin D deficiencies could lead to better physical performance and improvement for people with locomotion issues.


Larissa Iraj 

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

NYSSEF: 3rd Place, WESEF: 1st Place

Research Title: The Epigenetic Effects of the Antioxidant, Resveratrol, on Prolonging the Lifespan of Drosophila melanogaster Over Multiple Generations

Abstract: Resveratrol is a natural phenol and antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes, used in red wine, and has been shown to increase lifespan. Bhullar et al. (2015) found that feeding Drosophila melanogaster 100 uM resveratrol extended their mean lifespan by 29%. However, few known studies have explored the epigenetic effects of resveratrol over multiple generations. A dose-response study was conducted over three generations. 10 mL of resveratrol concentrations of 0 uM (control), 10 uM, 100 uM, 200 uM, 400 M, and 1000 uM were added to 3 grams of Formula 4-24® Instant Drosophila Medium Blue from Carolina Biological, for the P1 generation of Wild-type Drosophila melanogaster (n=25/vial for 6 vials). The F1 (n=30/vial for 12 vials) and F2 (n=40/vial for 12 vials) generations were raised on blue food medium without resveratrol. For all 3 generations, the flies fed 1000 uM in the P1 generation lived longer on average than the control. The F2 generation fed 100 uM and 400 uM diets in the P1 generation lived significantly longer on average than the P1 generation (p<0.05). Also, the F2 generation fed 10 uM diet in the P1 generation lived significantly longer on average than the F1 generation (p<0.05). Kaplan-Meier Curves showed that the F2 generation experienced the greatest percent survival. These results indicated that resveratrol promotes longevity and may have a protective epigenetic effect on subsequent generations. 


Julina Paruta  

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: 2nd Place

Research Title: The Effect of the New Western Diet on the Metabolite Concentration on the Epithelial Cells and the Microbiome of the Small and Large Intestines: A Study of Factors that Could Lead to Tumor Development 

Abstract: Colorectal Cancer is a cancer (cells that grow out of control) that starts and grows in the colon (large intestine) or the rectum and kills over 50,000 people per year in the US. While these colon and rectal tumors appear later in life, long-term dietary patterns are fundamental in how probable it is that they will develop. The question studied was: What changes in the metabolites (specifically amino acids) in the intestines are linked to the NWD establishing higher risk for the development of growth of tumors in the mouse, and how is this related to potential alterations in the gut microbes, which can participate in the metabolism of nutrients in the gut? The purpose of this study was to examine metabolites in the small and large intestines of wild-type C57Bl6 mice fed a rodent version of the New Western Diet (NWD) compared to a control diet (American Institute of Nutrition Diet or AIN76A). DNA was also isolated from fecal pellets of the mice and a Bray-Curtis model was constructed to quantify the abundances of bacterial species in the colon. The purpose of this was to determine if altered microbial species may be important in altering amino acid metabolism and hence representation of these amino acids in the host intestinal epithelial cells. The results showed that NWD significantly altered asparagine, tryptophan and valine in the large intestine (p<.05). In the small intestine, tryptophan and arginine were significantly altered compared to the AIN76A (p<.05). In addition sex and diet were strong signals for diversity of bacterial species in the microbiome of the intestine. Understanding the key elements and mechanisms of how NWD affects intestinal mucosa and flora can have a potentially enormous impact on reducing the worldwide impact of this disease.


Maria Saes 

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: 3rd Place

Research Title: Psychological Theories that Best Describe Crime Patterns in a Northeastern Suburban U.S. Town

Abstract: Various psychological theories have been utilized in describing crime patterns in cities throughout the United States. Studies lacked research on utilizing these theories in suburban neighborhoods. This study uses an environmental theory (temperature-aggression hypothesis )and a sociocultural theory (broken windows theory) to examine which would be the best in describing crime patterns in a local suburban neighborhood. Temperature-aggression hypothesis states that higher temperatures lead to an increase in aggression and crime. Broken windows state that visible signs of civil disorder encourage further crime. To measure the environmental theory, local police assault data and temperature data from all months of the years 2000-2019 were analyzed. To measure the sociocultural theory, systematic observation of police beats (1-6) and a rating system from 1-5. The hypothesis was partially supported. The temperature-aggression hypothesis was not supported as the months with the highest temperature did not have the highest total number of assaults. The correlation was close to zero showing no effect of temperature on assaults. As for the broken windows theory, it was supported suggesting that areas with high signs of crime led to more crime. In the beats with the highest average rating, the percentage of assault by beat increased as well. The R squared value was 0.9999, R-value 1 and the P-value was <0.0001. Results indicate that the broken windows theory is best to describe crime patterns in a suburban town.


Madison Schiro 

Year: Senior

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: 3rd Place

Research Title: The Effect of Social Isolation on Aggression in Female Drosophila melanogaster

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to determine if social isolation increases or decreases the aggressive behaviors exhibited by female Drosophila melanogaster. This has already been shown to be true concerning male D. melanogaster. Not as many studies and experiments have been done with females. Aggressive behaviors can include lunging, flicking of the wings, and movement of their front legs. They were separated into groups that were subjected to different forms of isolation. Each D. melanogaster from each group was pitted against another from the control group (crowded and social, which is standard behavior), and then recorded for their behaviors to be observed. It was found that the isolated D. melanogaster exhibited a significant amount of aggressive behaviors compared to the control group. The isolated Drosophila melanogaster,  however, also showed signs of little flying, were closer to the bottom of the vial, and stayed away from the other one, behaviors which may be interpreted as more depressed behaviors, or exhibiting a deficit in locomotion. The results found imply that different environmental factors induce different behavioral patterns in male and female fruit flies. The causes of aggressive behaviors may be worth investigating the effects of social isolation on female humans based on these results.


Morgan Remeza 

Year: Junior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 2 Years

WESEF: 3rd Place

Research Title: Use of Solar Panel Staging to Reduce Propellant Mass and Time of Flight for Spaceflight Missions Approaching the Sun

Abstract: The objective of this research was to determine how spacecraft missions approaching the Sun can be optimized using solar panel staging. One method of optimization uses staging mechanisms to deploy depleted thrusters. This has been shown to theoretically reduce fuel mass and time of flight (ToF) by 12.7% for a 3U cubesat. My study investigates how staging can be applied to solar panels for missions to Venus which is closer to the Sun. Levels of solar radiation increase as the spacecraft approaches Venus. Solar panels are designed to produce sufficient energy near Earth resulting in excess energy being produced in later parts of the mission. Therefore, it may be beneficial to “stage” or eject unneeded solar panels as the spacecraft approaches Venus. To determine the effectiveness of this idea, representative missions were designed. A minimum energy requirement for thruster operation was set and an equation that modeled energy production per unit of solar panels relative to the distance from Venus was formed. Analysis comparing energy requirements, solar panel energy production, and amount of solar panels showed that more than 40% of solar panels could be ejected before reaching Venus. Depending on the ejection times and specific mission, fuel savings were determined to be between 3-10%. Furthermore, applying my staging idea to 26 real life cubesat missions consistently produces sizable fuel mass savings in a wide range of spacecrafts. These findings support the use of solar panel staging to maximize mission efficiency for space exploration.


Roya Azar 

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: 4th Place

Research Title: Determining the Implications of KRN7000 vs. AH10-3 in hCD1d-KI Mice and the Implications Vɑ24 Genotype on iNKT Cell Expression in VɑKI Mice for Cancer Immunotherapy Research​

Abstract: iNKT cells (invariant Natural Killer T-cells), a subset of T-cells in the immune system, activate with synthetic glycolipids and can be used for cancer immunotherapy. But a synthetic glycolipid hasn’t been identified as more effective in providing anti-tumoral responses, in terms of iNKT cell activation. The impact of synthetic glycolipids KRN7000 and AH10-3 on iNKT cell proliferation was analyzed in this study. The hypothesized impact was that mice with KRN7000 would proliferate more iNKT cells than mice with AH10-3. In addition, the transition of iNKT cells research to clinical trials hasn’t been successful. To create a more accurate mouse model for iNKT cell research, a new strain of mice has been created called VɑKI mice. However, a discrepancy found was in the genotype of Vɑ24 in the VɑKI mice. Some mice were heterozygous for the Vɑ24 gene while other mice were homozygous for the Vɑ24 gene. Since humans are homozygous for Vɑ24, it was deemed necessary to determine the implications of homogeneity for Vɑ24, for the most accurate mouse model to be created. The hypothesized impact of this study was that homozygous mice would produce more iNKT cells than heterozygous mice. This hypothesis was supported as homozygous mice produced double the percent of iNKT cells compared to heterozygous mice. Mice homozygous for Vɑ24 contained an average of 51.35% of iNKT cells while mice heterozygous for Vɑ24 an average of 29.82% of iNKT cells.

Abbreviations/ Key Terms: Vɑ24, human gene for ɑ-chain of iNKT cell receptor; VɑKI, Vɑ24 Knock-In mice (mice containing hCD1dKI, mCD1dKO, Vɑ24-T, and Jɑ18KO) 


Bailey Fisher

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: 4th Place, David M. Holmes WESEF Engineering Innovation Award

Research Title: Creating a Wearable Device to Help Parkinson’s Patients Maintain an Upright Seated Position

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to create a device to be able to create a mechanism to measure the speed as a person falls over in their chair and measure the amount of pressure needed to restore the height of an inflatable bag with different weights on it.  This study focused on creating a mechanism to measure the acceleration and gathering data about how different weights cause the pressure in a bag to rise and then the amount of pressure needed to increase the height of the bag.  This was all done to ultimately create a device to help people with Parkinson's Disease be able to maintain an upright seated position in a chair to reduce harm.  In order to be able to create both the devices, an Arduino board attached to a MPU-6050 sensor measured the acceleration and a life vest was attached to a mechanism that was built with two pressure gauges and a ball valve to open and close the airpath into the bag.  The acceleration device was tested through humans falling over in a chair, while the other device was tested using different weights.  From this data, it was found that every ten pounds, the pressure it took to restore the height in the bag was significant.  This trend means that in building a device for people to wear, the device would be programmed to inflate for every ten pound the person put on the device.


Hannah Karkout

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: 4th Place

Research Title: Analyzing the Perspectives of Optometrists and Ophthalmologists on the Efficacy of Vision Therapy

Abstract: Vision therapy is a type of treatment used to improve various vision problems, such as strabismus, amblyopia, convergence problems, and other anomalies. Optometrists, the medical professionals who can specialize in vision therapy, generally support the use of vision therapy, while ophthalmologists contrarily oppose this type of treatment. Despite holding these strong opinions, there's a lack of solid reasoning as to why each side holds their opinion, and it seems that the controversy is not being resolved. As a result, a survey was formed and distributed to optometrists that do and do not perform vision therapy, as well as ophthalmologists. A total of 33 optometrists responded, 6 who are specialized in vision therapy and 27 that are not, while no ophthalmologists have participated. It was found that optometrists generally support the use of vision therapy for reasons such as having past experience with successful patients or knowing of published research, and have additionally noted improvement in their own/other patients that have received vision therapy. It was also found that many of the optometrists had differing opinions on the percentage of improvement required to categorize the treatment as effective. This implicates that the optometrists are able to support their opinion with a series of evidence, however define effectiveness differently, which may be the gap leading to confusion over the use of vision therapy.


Jillian Williams

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: 4th Place, Community Impact Award

Research Title: Comparing Weight Changes During Treatment Epochs in Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Debility Patients

Abstract: Strokes typically cause disability in individuals as a result of muscle inactivity and overall weight loss, and rehabilitation programs are often insufficient to reverse this disability and weight loss. TBI (traumatic brain injury) and debility patients similarly endure forms of weight loss while being treated. In an attempt to investigate whether weight loss varied amongst these patients, patient weights were analyzed across different treatment epochs (acute care and rehabilitation hospitalization) by measuring patient weights at acute care hospitalization admissions (AAW), rehabilitation hospital admissions (RAW), and rehabilitation hospital exits (REW). Weights were gathered for each population at a rehabilitation center using OnBase and MediTech. Percent differences between each stage were calculated and ANOVA and t-tests were conducted within and between diagnostic groups for the patient weights at the end of each treatment period to examine any statistically significant differences between the weight fluctuations these populations experienced. Within groups, many stroke and TBI patients experienced the majority of their weight loss in the acute care phase. Significant differences (p < 0.05) in weight loss were found during acute hospitalization TBI and debility patients and TBI and stroke patients, suggesting that TBI patients experience a more severe form of weight loss while at acute care facilities compared to during their convalescence at rehabilitation facilities. Analysis implies that a significant loss of weight occurs in TBI and stroke patients during their acute care stays and clinical protocols in such a setting may need to take this into account in promoting beneficial outcomes for these patients.


Lauren Davidson

Year: Sophomore, Intended IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 1 Year

WESEF: 4th Place

Research Title: The Effects of sir-2.4 Knockdown on GFP Fluorescence Levels and RPL-29::GFP Concentration 

Abstract: Using the strain CZ18550, this research analyzed how the knockdown of the gene sir-2.4 affected GFP fluorescence levels, GFP localization and RPL-29::GFP concentration. The major questions researched were the effect on GFP localization and fluorescence level after sir-2.4 knockdown and 30°C heat stress, the effect on GFP after double knockdown of sir-2.4 and daf-16, the effect on GFP after knockdown in different stages of development, and the effect on GFP after mdt-28 RNAi. Overall, it was found that the knockdown of sir-2.4, when placed under heat stress, caused an increase in the fluorescence of the GFP. Along with this, the heat stress caused the worms to undergo a developmental delay. However, this interestingly occurred in both the control, L4440, and the sir-2.4i worms that were placed under heat stress. Additionally, the knockdown of sir-2.4 caused an increase by almost double in the concentration of RPL-29::GFP when compared to the control, L4440. The knockdown of sir-2.4 in the egg stage versus Day 1 of adulthood caused an increase in worm size of the Day 1 adulthood worms, while there was an increase in fluorescence levels in both experimental groups of worms. Similarly, with the knockdown of sir-2.4 and daf-16, there was an increase in fluorescence level, as well as much larger worms and larger than normal intestines in the worms. This study is important to future research because sir-2.4 has a human homolog, so any results that could lead to stress resistance or lifespan could be interesting to research and compare to possible effects in humans. In addition, any research that was found could lead to further research and even more discoveries that could affect how we know C. elegans, as well as many other eukaryotes. 


Tyler Burden

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: Innovations in Biological Sciences Research Award

Research Title: Evaluating the Effects of Dance Improvisation on Brain Activity Using a Battery of Cognitive Tests 

Abstract: Traditionally, improvisation has been utilized as a tool for performing artists of all kinds to facilitate creative development and artistic growth. Considered a notably complex activity, musical improvisation can be defined as spontaneous selection and execution of actions that are relevant to the musical context (Landau, Limb, 2017). Musical improvisation in the form of dance holds the same definition, but with movement of the body, specifically, as the action which is spontaneously selected and executed. Though studies have utilized fMRI techniques to measure the brain activity associated with musical improvisation in jazz musicians (Donnay, et al., 2012), there are limitations to the use of fMRI with the process of dance improvisation. This study utilizes an alternative method, cognitive tests, to measure changes in cognition in a group of children and teenagers before and after improvisation intervention activities and provides insight into the areas of the brain that are activated during the process. Paired t-tests were used to determine if there were significant differences between pre and posttest scores for each activity. The hypothesis was partially supported, as the results showed that scores on a divergent thinking test were significantly higher after participation in a dance improvisation activity, as well as a verbal, non-physical improvisation activity (p < 0.05). These results indicate the activation of the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain during improvisation activity and support the implementation of improvisation activities into primary and secondary education systems as well as therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.


Madison Stagg

Year: Senior, IB Diploma Candidate

Science Research: 3 Years

WESEF: NOAA Taking the Pulse of the Planet Award

Research Title: The Correlation Between the Great White Shark’s Proximity(Carcharodon carcharias) to Shore and the Lunar Cycle Phases

Abstract: Since 2004 there has been an increase in the number of great white shark sightings in the Cape Cod Bay Area. These recent increases of sightings have alarmed many locals and tourists of the Cape Cod area. The increase in the number of seals, one of the great white’s main food sources, along the shores of Cape Cod is possibly the main reason the great whites are coming closer to shore. The moon has various effects on the marine ecosystem and the ocean tides, including the great white’s proximity to shore. There are eight lunar cycle phases of the moon. Depending on the position of the earth the moon reflects different amounts of light from the sun onto the ocean, illuminating the ocean. A data set obtained from Marine Biologist Greg Skomal was used to determine the correlation between the lunar cycle phases and the great white shark’s proximity to shore. In the data set acoustic tracking was used to record the locations of 12 sharks during the months of May to December 2013 in the Atlantic Ocean surrounding Cape Cod. ArcGIS was used to make a frequency map depicting all the times any of the twelve sharks were tracked/recorded at an acoustic receiver and what the lunar cycle phase was. The study resulted in the sharks coming closer to shore during the darker phases of the moon.