Jay Zussman, Great Neck South High School’s first ever Siemens Competition in Math Science and Technology regional finalist, is ready to take the next step, competing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh just before Thanksgiving and a chance for additional scholarship money that could add up to as much as $100,000.
He’s already won $1,000 for being just one of only five regional finalists in the state. There are five other regions across the country that have each named five individual finalists. If the 17-year-old scientist, who grew up in Thomaston and went to Saddle Rock Elementary and then South Middle School, can win in Pittsburgh, he would go to Washington, D.C. in December to compete against the five other regional winners. There is a separate Siemens competition for team entries.
Winning in Pittsburgh would earn Zussman $3,000. A finalist in Washington will earn no less than $10,000. The national champion will win $100,000 in scholarship funds. A second place finish is worth $50,000.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in science,” said Zussman, who wants to be a doctor. “It’s been a great passion of mine since I was a little kid. It was always my favorite subject in elementary school.”
Zussman’s project (Zip1 C-terminal phosphorylation promotes Zip1-Sgs1 interaction in meiotic cells) was described this way by Carol Hersh, his AP chemistry teacher and senior science research advisor: “It’s basically a study of a process in yeast that is important in understanding more about the creating of human life.
Zussman’s entry is in the form of a 21-page manuscript. In Pittsburgh, he’ll have to make a 12-minute oral presentation of his work and then go through a private question-and-answer session with the judges.
“The research itself was done over the summer at Stony Brook University,” explained Dr. Hersh, who’s in her 18th year at the school. “I’m in touch with my students over the summer so I have an idea about what they are doing. But when he came back to school, we had long discussions about it so that I could fully understand it and ask questions and be able to give him a little bit of advice on how to present the material.”
“He’s terrific,” Zussman’s teacher continued. “He’s enthusiastic. He works hard. He really mastered his topic and he taught me about it. I work with students who are doing a broad variety of projects so I can’t know about everything they’re going to encounter.”
Zussman, who has found time during his high school career to play junior varsity lacrosse and swim for the varsity, is also serious about his music and creative writing. “I’m a classical clarinetist,” he said. “Sports are not really my thing. I enjoy them but I’m not really serious about them. I’m much more serious about music.”
He’s also in a band (The All-Nighters) in which he sings and plays a multitude of instruments from sax to drums to piano. “Last year we won the school’s ‘Battle of The Bands,” he said. “We won $100.”
The Siemens finalist says that he owes a lot to not only Dr. Hersh and her colleague, Dr. James Truglio, but to Stony Brook professor Nancy Hollingsworth. Zussman contacted university labs all over the metropolitan area hoping to find a lab this past summer where he could perform independent research. Dr. Hersh knew Dr. Hollingsworth and helped make the connection.
“Basically,” said Zussman about his work with Dr. Hollingsworth, “we decided together that I would devote my summer to studying the topic (for the Siemens competition).”
Zussman spent 10 weeks going back and forth between his home and the university. “Dr. Hollingsworth sent me lots of published papers and literature and I educated myself before I got there,” he explained. “Once I got there, we explored options about what I could do.”
Zussman is waiting for an early decision from Yale University in December but also has his eye on Washington University in St. Louis. When asked about what he wanted to study, he replied, “I’m not exactly sure yet but I’m interested in fertility medicine. It wraps up nicely with my project.”