Three Dobbs Ferry Students Win Acorda Scientific Excellence Awards

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Faariah Shakil
Faariah Shakil Photo Credit: Contributed/Faariah Shakil
Benjamin Cord
Benjamin Cord Photo Credit: Contributed/Benjamin Hord
Maya DeBellis
Maya DeBellis Photo Credit: Contributed/Maya DeBellis

DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. -- Dobbs Ferry High School students Faariah Shakil, Maya DeBellis and Benjamin Hord each received the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award in March for their independent scientific research projects.

Shakil conducted laboratory research to help find a treatment for seizures, specifically, infantile spasms. She was studying the effect of estradiol in rats. The results showed that the estradiol increased the number of a particular type of neurons in rats’ brains. If effective in humans, this could decrease the severity of seizures.

"My parents are both doctors, so I have been exposed to medicine since a very young age," Shakil said. "They were the ones that actually pushed me to work in a research setting. I chose to work with this particular topic because I have always been interested in neurology and neuroscience. I appreciate the complexity and mystery of the brain, so working on this project was extremely satisfying."

Shakil said she is planning a career in science, specifically medicine.

"I do enjoy other activities, such as art, reading, and music, but I do not see myself being truly happy in any field other than medicine," she said. "I intend to specialize in either neurology or neurosurgery.

DeBellis did her research to help understand the complexities of elephant communications in the rain forest. She studied elephants’ ability to communicate across long distances, which they do by using low-frequency call sounds to one another.

"I have always loved animals, but my passion for elephants began when I traveled to Thailand the summer after my freshman year," DeBellis said. "I worked on an elephant reserve and was able to interact and care for the elephants. I became obsessed. When I returned to school in the fall and started the science research program I knew I wanted to study elephants."

DeBellis read scientific papers on elephants and became particularly interested in their communication.

"I knew I wanted to study forest elephants because they are the species at the greatest risk of extinction," she said. "I was fortunate to be able to work at a lab where I was able to explore my specific interest and I really enjoyed studying forest elephant communication."

DeBellis hopes to pursue a career in science.

"I'm not sure exactly what type of science that will yet, but animal science is something I'm seriously considering," DeBellis said. "I think some of the most valuable parts of animal science research are it's conservation implications."

Hord's research was on increasing the understanding of quasars, the most-distant celestial bodies in the universe that can be seen by man. He studied light that is emitted by quasars (using data gained from the Gemini telescope in Hawaii) in an effort to gain insight into the broad line regions that lie within the quasars.

"I’ve been interested in outer space for most of my life.  The person who really got me interested in the topic was my grandfather," Hord said. "He worked for NASA and I’ll always remember the nights that I went out into the yard with the telescope and looked up at the sky with him.  

Hord had been reading many journal articles on quasars and the subject piqued his interest. He said he enjoys research and then explaining the sciences to others.

"The more that I read, the more I wanted to know," he said. "It wasn’t too long after that I began to work with a professor from Lehman College studying these objects that I had read so much about. I’m a little bit different because I really like explaining science to people."

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