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Intel finalists meet Obama

For four Francis Lewis HS students, it was difficult to decide what was more exciting: advancing to the finals of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair competition or getting a chance to meet President Barack Obama at the finals of the city competition.

“Everyone got to shake [Obama’s] hand,” said Francis Lewis senior Aislinn Deely, who said the students were tipped off to the president’s appearance by the “ridiculous security” and abundance of Secret Service agents surrounding the interior of the American Museum of Natural History during the city finals March 29.

Aislinn said she was more excited “going to ISEF” finals “after working so long,” referring to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

“I think meeting the president is a cherry on top,” she said.

“A very big cherry on top,” Sunny Aggarwal, a senior and fellow Intel finalist, chimed in.

Sunny and two other Francis Lewis juniors — Indroneil Roy and Tanmai Shah — had the opportunity to present their project to Obama.

“Our project works on making solar panels a lot more efficient,” Sunny said, noting the panels constructed by his team were 24 percent to 25 percent efficient while conventional panels are 7 percent efficient.

“We could get our stuff patented and we might do that soon,” he said. “It’s going to get our stuff recognized.”

The team said Obama appreciated how the project fits in with his administration’s goal to not be as heavily reliant on oil for energy.

“He was very thrilled that our project had something to do with energy,” Sunny said.

“I think his exact quote was, ‘Guys, what are you waiting for? Hurry up and solve this problem so you can help me out,’” Tanmai said.

Francine Weissman, science research program coordinator and a science teacher at Francis Lewis, who was not allowed to be in the room when Obama walked in because it was closed off to just students, said she was so amazed at the president’s interest that she asked more about their meeting Obama than how they did at the competition.

“I wasn’t like, ‘How were the questions? How was the judging? You just met the president!’” she said.

The Intel competition in the city began March 6 with a preliminary round consisting of 600 projects, with the top 25 percent in each category advancing to the city finals.

Of 150 that made it to the finals at the American Museum of Natural History, 15 were selected to represent the city at the international finals in Los Angeles.

“In our school, we had two of them, which makes us sound awesome,” Weissman said.

“We are awesome,” Aislinn corrected.

For her project, Aislinn, through her mentor, Dr. Bonnie Blackwell, collected coral and shell samples from the Bahamas and dated them through electron spin resonance to construct a sea level curve dating back 220,000 years by determining the ages, elevation and water depth of the samples.

“By studying sea level patterns of the past, we can predict the future,” Aislinn said.

David Marmor, assistant principal for science at Francis Lewis, said he was “blown away” by the students’ accomplishments and they impress him year after year.

“Which is going to make next year really crazy,” he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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