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entries tagged with: Science Olympiad


Young scientist makes an important breakthrough

Seventeen-year-old Kayla Applebaum, a senior at Ma’ayanot High School, says she’s “not afraid of being a science nerd.”

The Teaneck resident — one of 300 semi-finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search — told The Jewish Standard that she comes from a family of doctors and others involved in science.

“Growing up, I was inspired by their love of it,” she said, noting that she participated last year in Yeshiva University’s Science Olympiad, focusing on genetics and ecology. Her three younger sisters, she added, are “blossoming scientists and mathematicians.”

Ruth Wang Birnbaum, associate principal of Ma’ayanot, said Kayla’s achievement has “made her dream come true,” since one of her goals has been to galvanize the school’s science research program.

Kayla Applebaum

Kayla worked closely with Phyllis Serfaty, the school’s science research coordinator, in the months preceding submission of her paper.

During crunch time, said Birnbaum, “she had to get out of a couple of classes, but the teachers were onboard, allowing her to make up her work.”

According to a statement from organizers of the Intel Science Talent Search, winners have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes and three National Medals of Science.

“It’s important for a woman to go into science,” said Kayla, who took part this summer in a physics research lab at the Garcia Center of Stony Brook University, where participants were evenly divided between young men and women. Kayla estimates that 18 of the 68 participants were Jewish.

“I was determined to do something with science that summer,” she said, explaining that the application procedure took note of her academic performance — she has studied honors biology, honors chemistry, AP biology, and honors physics — and included teacher recommendations.

Her summer project, which involved studying the effects of certain nano particles on skin cells, was well received. As a result, she continued researching her topic, adding statistical analyses and ultimately submitting her work to the Intel competition.

Her paper, “The Protective Effects of a Multicomponent Polymer Coated Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) on Human Adiocytes and Lambda DNA in the Presence of Ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) Radiation,” built on a longtime interest in skin cells.

“My aunt and uncle are dermatologists,” she said, explaining that her work focused on determining the effects of minerals used in certain sunscreens to deflect ultraviolet radiation.

“There had been studies of upper-layer cells, but we wanted to know if it got even deeper, and once it did, what effect it had on the cells. We took particles and added them to cell cultures to see the effects of it.”

She ultimately determined that the additive, as constituted, was ineffective, but that polymer-coated nano particles could achieve the desired effect.

Kayla, who is leaving this week to visit family in Israel over school break, said that while “science helps clarify the safety of some products, you have to love science to want to do it.”

Making scientific breakthroughs is only one part of Kayla’s life. According to Birnbaum, the senior “is a well-rounded young woman who is not only a fine science mind, Talmud mind, and co-editor in chief of her senior class yearbook,” but studies AP art as well.

“At Ma’ayanot, we strive to teach girls empowerment,” said Birnbaum. “We’re very proud of her accomplishment and excited for her.”

After her graduation in June, Kayla will spend a year in Israel. After that she will attend Stern College, with the intention of pursuing studies in medicine.

Kayla, who has already won $1,000 as an Intel semi-finalist (the school was awarded $1,000 as well), will learn on Jan. 27 whether she has been chosen to join a pool of 40 finalists. Should she win, she could be awarded the top prize of $100,000.

While her family is proud of her achievements, said Kayla, it is clear that her school is equally excited.

“She’s bringing glory to Ma’ayanot,” said Birnbaum.


Is team spirit limited to sports?

Irene Stein, Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck’s math league advisor, left, with Shlomo Klapper, Yakir Forman, Natanel Friedenberg, and Gavi Dov Hochsztein, American Mathematics Competition winners who qualified for the American Invitational Mathematics examination.

When it comes to brain vs. brawn, who gets the accolades?

At Jewish high schools in the area, it depends on whom you ask. The educators agree that students cheer their academic teams as much as the sports teams. The students say, “Well, yes, but it’s a close call.”

The question arises following some stellar performances in the academic world: Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck brought home multiple awards in math competition. Three students from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva for Girls in Teaneck just were honored in Washington for winning a prestigious science competition. A student at the Frisch Academy in Paramus came out on top over 400 other students in a Talmud competition.

The schools field a full range of athletic teams, among them baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball. But they also compete in such areas as chess, debate, mock trial, Torah Bowl, New Jersey Challenge, Science Olympiad, and math.

“We at TABC emphasize participation in all extra-curricular activities, be that athletics or academics,” said Arthur Poleyeff, principal for general studies at the Teaneck school.

The academic competitors “are applauded by their peers; they are held in high esteem,” said Irene Stein, the TABC math teacher who guided the math competitors. “They enjoy the competition,” she continued. “Success breeds success.”

The students experience intrinsic rewards, said Rookie Billet, principal at Ma’ayanot. “When the team brings a trophy, all the kids cheer,” and the praise of their teachers counts for a lot, she said.

At The Frisch School in Paramus, Principal Kalman Stein said academics share the space on the podium with athletics. “Sports are important, but they are not that important,” Stein said.

“The ‘big man’ or ‘big woman on campus’ is more often than not not an athlete,” he said.

By the numbers, TABC has had a winning year in math competition. Yakir Forman, a junior, won the first prize of $1,000 in the inaugural Jacob Goldfinger Memorial Mathematics competition sponsored by Touro College’s Lander College for men.

Senior Netanel Friedenberg won the third prize of $100, and junior Moshe Kollmar took honorable mention. Tzipporah Greenberg, a sophomore at Bais Yackovin Passaic also took honorable mention. There were 96 participants from around the country.

In the New Jersey Math League competition, TABC placed fifth-highest in the state and first in Bergen County.

The Mathematics Association of America uses a series of competitions to choose a six-person team to represent the United States in the math Olympiad. Although he didn’t make the final team, Yakir, a junior, finished in the top 80 out of 100,000.

Shlomo Klapper, this year’s TABC valedictorian, shared insights about these kinds of competition. He speaks from the experience of his roles as captain of the Science Olympiad, Torah Bowl, and College Bowl teams.

He explained that the math competitions are in test format and take place within the student’s school. This kind of competition is not a spectator sport.

“You can go to a hockey game, but you can’t go to a math competition,” he said. “It is a solo experience, you’re flying alone,” he said.

Other competition are out in the open, though — the College Bowl championships, for example. The Torah Bowl is in more of a quiz show format, with competitors pressing a button to buzz when they have an answer.

Picking a question at random, Shlomo demonstrated an answer involving logarithms, a concept that has mystified this reporter for decades. After Shlomo’s explanation, the concept is still mysterious, but less so.

In some cases, like the Science Olympiad, contestants have to practice, he said. In other cases, though, you can’t really study because the subject matter is so broad. Asked what was one of his out-of-the-blue questions, he recalled a U.S. history question: Who was the British prime minister during the American Revolution?

He just happened to have the answer filed in his brain — Lord North.

He said he was in school from about 7:40 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. Asked how many hours, caught without a calculator, he had to think a bit. Nine hours and about 45 minutes, he figured. “A calculator is such a terrible crutch,” he said.

If there is a divide between brains and brawn, Shlomo speaks from both sides. Athletics have their place, said Shlomo, who was on the tennis and softball teams and runs now and then.

“You can’t pickup and play college bowl, but you can with sports,” he said. While TABC is “very supportive” of academic teams, the satisfaction of winning is more within the team itself, he said.

“After all, in the general sense, mainstream sports have been, and probably will be, cooler than the College Bowl,” he said.

Shlomo will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. His major? He doesn’t know yet.

At Ma’ayanot, sisters Ariella and Eliana Applebaum, and Elana Forman, all of Teaneck, were national winners in the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVisionAwards Program.

The trio was cited for sifting through scientific literature and then forecasting 20 years into future for what the state of knowledge about human ability to regenerate limbs will be.

The girls were in Washington, D.C., to receive their awards last week. The contest is in its 18th year, and this is the first year Ma’ayanot has participated. Each winner gets a $5,000 savings bond.

Earlier in the spring, Ma’ayanot students Daniella Greenbaum of New York and Tzippy Steingart of Teaneck won first and third place in the annual Holocaust Memorial essay contest run by EMUNAH, a social service agency.

Daniella’s essay was named “Masha Greenbaum,” for her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Tzippy’s was “A Nightmare to Remember, A Nightmare Never to Forget.”

At Frisch, the principal was speaking at the crest of a victory for senior Darren Sultan, who bested 400 students nationwide in the Yeshiva University Bronka Weintraub Bekiut Program. The contest is aimed at getting students to study Talmud outside the classroom.

Darren won first place in the United States portion of the International Bible Contest two years ago, and last year was first among the non-Israeli competitors in the international contest.

Jessica Oppenheimer, a Frisch senior on her way to Yale and captain of the debate team, said academic teams are appreciated, but athletic teams grab more of the spotlight.

“There is more of a sense of inclusion with sports teams because you can go and cheer,” she said. “You can’t do that with athletic teams.”

Soccer player Jared Hoch, also a senior, agreed that academic teams are appreciated, but sports teams get the edge. One reason he said is that academic teams often compete in a tournament setting, while the soccer team competes a game at a time. “When you win, everybody knows,” while academic victories are not as publicized, he said.

Rachel Cohen, a member of the girls soccer team at Frisch, agreed that sports teams get more attention, but she said part of that is logistics. Debates, for example, are held during school hours, while sports games are after school, so student spectators can attend.

But there is recognition for the academic teams, she said. “Everybody wants to show respect for their friends and show that they appreciate what they’re doing,” she said.

It was a winning season for the Frisch girls team — they won the league championship. Rachel said their sports activity dovetails with their Judaic studies.

“We all worked so hard together this year and it showed,” she said. “We did better when we were close.”

Last week, Rep. Steve Rothman welcomed Eliana Applebaum, Ariella Applebaum, and Elana Forman to Washington, D.C. The three students, from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, are winners of the 2010 Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards.
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