Maybe it is rocket science

More than 350 students from Hudson County competed in this year’s Jersey City Medical Center STEM showcase at Liberty Science Center in March.

Elementary and middle school students came to the showcase to compete against each other in one of 17 categories that included Medicine and Health, Physics, and Animal Science.

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The participants displayed their projects and explained their research findings to volunteer judges with professional experience in STEM-related fields.

Two top winners at the high school level will represent Hudson County at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, to be held this May in Phoenix. Elementary school students vie for the chance to represent Hudson County at the Broadcom Masters.

Judges at the two-day Liberty Science Center event named gold, silver, and bronze medal winners as well as team winners in the high school and elementary/middle school categories.

Inquiring minds want to know

Nicole Fitzgerald, a ninth grader at St. Dominic Academy, didn’t believe in the statistics provided on labels of some healthy foods such as nuts.

“So I decided to check them out for myself,” she said. “For instance, the label on almonds was listed as 170 calories per serving. By using a Calorinda measurer, I was able to determine that they actually were only 120.”

Raquene Abreu, a senior at Union City High School, wanted to know if some essential oils had any antibiotic properties.

“I wanted to know if some had more than others,” she said.

Testing four different oils, she found that lavender was very effective in fighting bacteria but that tea tree oil was best overall.

“During my senior year I was very sick” she said. “I grew up in a very holistic environment, and I wondered if there were natural treatments I could use.”

She plans a career in chemistry.

Sounds good

Mark Yousseff, a senior at Bayonne High School, examined the impact of sound on behavior, particularly anxiety and social behavior.

He subjected his classmates to low- and high-frequency sound. Ultimately, he was looking for a less invasive way for doctors to treat conditions such as PTSD, and perhaps reduce the need for drugs.

He’s eyeing a career in medicine and perhaps neuroscience.

Karen Ayoubb, a sophomore at McNair Academic High School in Jersey City, wanted to find a way to use the energy in red tide in a positive way. She heard about red tide in Florida, and wanted to find a practical use, possibly as a power source. She’s aiming toward a career in neuroscience.

Lakshman Prabhakar, a senior at McNair, said he’d always wanted to launch rockets, but since can’t legally launch them vertically legally, he built a rocket plane that can fly horizontally.

“While such things existed in World War II, they were similar to jet aircraft, but unlike jets these must carry their own oxygen,” Prabhakar said. “This increases the weight of the plane.”

Part of his process for providing oxygen involved photosynthesis. He sees a time when this process might be used for colonizing Mars.

Powerful ideas 

Emily Urbina, a senior at Union City High School was looking for an alternative power source for smart phones. She explored various ways that would not cause them to explode.

Riyakunari Jain, a senior at North Bergen High School, wanted to know whether a digital or conventional tool used to measure joint movement was more accurate and which was preferred. Both appear to be equally accurate, but a survey showed that most current doctors prefer the conventional device, although younger people coming into the field prefer the digital version.

Kara Jozwaik, a senior at Bayonne High School, wanted to develop a new kind of insulin pump. “Traditional pumps have to be changed every three days, and often cause damage to tissue,” she said. I wanted a wireless pump that would not need to be changed, is less painful, and could be located under the arm.”

Not surprisingly, Jozwaik wants to become a doctor.

Vanessa Hernandez, a junior at Union City High School, looked for alternatives for medications that would have fewer complications and side effects.

“I was inspired by my grandmother who was in constant pain and suffered side effects from the medicine she was taking,” she said, noting that some alternatives were toxic.

Kaia Pomeeranc, a 5th grader at Theodore Roosevelt School in Weehawken, wanted to develop clothing that would be warm but would also cool down. This included pockets for ice packs in summer.

And the winner is … 

At the conclusion of the fair, winners were announced. A ceremony will be held on May 1 to honor those who won.

Middle and elementary gold medal winners included Mujtaba Raja, School 25, in Jersey City; Mark Mauriello and Nick Facchini, of St. Francis Academy in Union City; Kendall Paucer and Savannah Rivera, of Emerson Middle School in Union City; Caleb Alvaron, Zachary Greenwald and Emily Costa, from Hudson Montessori in Jersey City; and Julian Rodriguez, Joshua Vazquez, and Joseph Vazquez, St. Francis Academy.

Elementary and middle grade silver medals included Aarush Lal of School 25 in Jersey City; Simran Bhatla of Huber Street School in Secaucus; Rashi Jakhotiya of Secaucus Middle School; Preksha Agarwal, Sarah Francis, Elena Vodychko, and Jacinta Tero of Nicholas Oresko School in Bayonne; Ashad Shaila-Mohamad,  from Academy I in Jersey City; Saloni Singh of Secaucus Middle School; Reva Kunta and Sara Sanvictores of Hudson Montessori.

Samyan Mangat and Sophia Benavente, from Secaucus Middle School were among the elementary and middle school bronze medals winners. Other winners from the same categories included Michael Cascetta and Ivan-Asen Radoslavov, of St. Francis Academy; Matthew Costanzo, of Henry Harris Community School in Bayonne; Adriana Morono, of Sara M. Gilmore School in Union City; Sophie Engdall, of Horace Mann Community School of Bayonne; Gabriela Banchon, of Emerson Middle School in Union City; Elizabeth Rodriguez, of St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City; Yasmeena Elmahdy of Emerson Middle School, in Union City; Shrav Garg and Felix Tinio, Hudson Montessori School in Jersey City; and iliana Cordero, Joseph Lawandy, and Isaac Young, of Henry E. Harris Community School in Bayonne.

For updates on this and other stories check and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at

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