JFK’s Whitney Sussman is a Regeneron Scholar

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This is the first of three profiles on Kennedy High School’s Regeneron Science Scholars.

Whitney Sussman, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School, has been named a Regeneron Science Scholar for her research in biology. Two other Kennedy students, Jake Levine and Jonathan Mashal, were honored as well.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search is the country’s most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Past scholars hold more than 100 of the world’s most distinguished science and math honors, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science.

Becoming a scholar takes work, Sussman said. Her project, done as part of the Advanced Science Research class, was three years in the making. “I applied for the class freshman year,” Sussman said. “At the time, 50 kids were accepted, but because of the work, some drop out — my class is left with 13 kids now.”

Sussman spent those three years collecting and analyzing data, and creating the final stats for the research. To apply, she had to write six major research papers, she said.

Her project, “The Role of Clock Genes and Hormones in Small Intestinal Glucose Uptake,” can have a practical, real-world impact, she explained. Inspired by her grandmother, who has diabetes, the research may help combat the disease.

Clock genes function in coordination with the rise and setting of the sun. Depending on the time of day, these genes cause certain hormones to become active. Sussman focused on hormones that inhibit glucose uptake.

Her research led her to conclude that there are two hormones that work in conjunction with clock genes, while three others do not. Studying those two hormones could lead to treatments for diabetes’ affect on glucose levels, Sussman said.

She said she was excited about being named a Regeneron Scholar. Each receives a $2,000 prize, with an additional $2,000 going to their school. “I definitely plan to use it towards school,” said Sussman, who hopes to be accepted at Tulane University or Furman University.

Working with Barbi Frank, Kennedy’s Advanced Science Research class teacher, was “amazing,” Sussman said. Frank assisted the students throughout the entire process, from starting the research to editing the papers and finalizing the statistics. Research teachers Barbara Franklin and Orquidea Afonso and Science Chair Robert Soel also supported the students throughout the program.

“Their projects are the culmination of three years of independent, graduate-level scientific research completed under the mentorship of a scientist in a field of study which they are passionate about,” Soel said. “We congratulate them on this outstanding accomplishment and wish them the best of luck in the next phase of the competition.”

Kennedy’s Jake Levine and Jonathan Mashal were also chosen as scholars. Levine’s project was “Fasciclin 2 Expression is Positively Correlated with Gut Function Under Nutrient-Poor Conditions in Drosophila melanogaster,” while Mashal researched “Bay Scallop and Eastern Oyster Survival Within Crepidula fornicata Shell Beds in the Peconic Bays, New York.” Look for more on Mashal and Levine in upcoming issues of the Herald Life.

Each year, 300 Regeneron STS Scholars and their schools are recognized. From those 300, 40 finalists will travel to Washington, D.C., in March for final judging and to display their work. The top award is $250,000.

The finalists will be named on Jan. 23.