Och students score high in science competition

Och students score high in science competition

Two teams conceive future solutions to current problems

Dr. Arco Jeng with seventh-grade science enrichment students, from left, Arielle Solomon, Ben Soudry, and Eli Esrig. Photo by Robert Wiener
Dr. Arco Jeng with seventh-grade science enrichment students, from left, Arielle Solomon, Ben Soudry, and Eli Esrig. Photo by Robert Wiener

Students at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange brainstormed their way to honorable mentions in a national science competition.

One team of students conceived a theoretical way to create a vaccine against the AIDS virus, while another proposed a car of the future that could run on safe and inexpensive fuel.

On March 7, their ideas were awarded honorable mention in an interscholastic competition called ExploraVision, sponsored by Toshiba Electronics.

The four 10th-graders and three seventh-graders at the Conservative day school are among the top 10 percent of the 5,000 student teams who entered the contest.

Their challenge was to predict how current technology might evolve in the next 20 years.

The seven budding scientists are all members of the academy’s science enrichment program, and are among five middle school and 10 high school students active in its afterschool sessions.

The older teammates — Jason Roth of South Orange, Isaac Deitz-Green of Montclair, Naomi Gutstein of Short Hills, and Sam Rubinstein of West Caldwell — focused on locating an avenue to curing AIDS.

“We chose HIV to research because we all decided it was really interesting and really important,” said Naomi.

“We tried to think of how to eradicate the virus from the body,” said Jason on March 17 as he sat at a conference table in the upper school’s ground floor.

Their notion was to use a harmless virus to stop one that is potentially lethal, highly contagious, and, at this point, incurable.

“We wanted to put restriction enzymes into human cells to cut out the DNA of the virus. We needed to come up with a way to get the enzyme in there,” Sam explained.

“That virus would have the DNA to transport the enzyme into cells,” said Isaac.

‘Outside the box’

The seventh-graders’ concept car would run on algae, not gasoline.

“We are taking pond scum and putting it into a car to help it run and save the environment,” said Arielle Solomon of West Orange.

“The algae is put through a bioreactor, which converts it into bio-fuel,” explained her teammate, Ben Soudry of Livingston. “Then it is put through a sort of conventional engine that is made to run on bio-fuel.”

Their third partner, Eli Esrig of West Orange, believes algae has an undeserved bad reputation.

“I was looking over my mom’s shoulder as she was reading a gardening magazine, and there was a whole page on algae deterrent in ponds,” he said. “It made me feel kind of weird, because algae does photosynthesis, which reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But people persist in trying to stop it from growing, and it is saving the earth.”

Recruitment for the school’s science enrichment program begins when fifth-graders visit the labs in the upper school once a month.

The GOA enrichment program receives funding from the Goldstein & Saranga Science and Math Enrichment Endowment Fund.

Arco Jeng, a Chinese-born biochemist who teaches math and science courses at the academy, supervises the students.

He is currently looking to enter them in competitions in Israel as well as the United States.

“Our society is always challenged by competition, and eventually, these kids are going to know it in the real world,” he said.

“Dr. Jeng doesn’t just come into the class with a book,” said Nina Bilmes, chair of the school’s math and science departments. “He teaches the kids to think outside of the box, and if the kids have the ability to think outside of the box, they are able to apply that knowledge to all other subjects.”

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