Student Has Eye on Science Prize



Pierson High School’s Andrew Mitchell has been named a semifinalist for the Intel science competition — a national competition that gives scholarships and other prizes for high school seniors who excel in many different areas of science.

“I really enjoy science and chemistry,” said the Pierson senior who joined in the research at the school last year and has been working with fungus and molds.

Mitchell’s work is a continuation of research that began about five years ago in Pierson’s chemistry lab under the direction of Dr. Robert Schumacher, the high school chemistry teacher.

“We find out what compounds the fungus produces that have medicinal properties,” explained Dr. Schumacher. “Andrew’s research provided two new members of the scoriosins and provided more material for further biological evaluation.”

In 2005, it was then-Pierson senior Ailish Bateman who first made it into the list of top 40 Intel finalists for the fungus project. Schumacher said that she submitted only one structure and more data was required to prove the structure.

In 2008, senior Josephine Thiele isolated six new scoriosin type antibiotics and was an Intel semifinalist. Mitchell has subsequently isolated two new members of the scoriosin family of antibiotics and synthesized them to prove the structure and provide more material for biological testing.

All the projects together provided the necessary data to publish the work in a scientific journal. 

“This further proved Ailish and Josie’s structures and provided new data about the mode of activity,” Dr. Schumacher said of Mitchell’s work.

The paper will be published later this year in collaboration with Dartmouth College and the University of Mississippi and with all three students as co-authors.

All across the U.S., hopeful students wait for the response from the organizers of the Intel competition — from late November when students submit applications to mid-January, when the semifinalists are announced. Last Wednesday, Mitchell learned that he was an Intel semifinalist.

“I had to write five 300-word essays, and include it with my resume in a pack,” Mitchell said. He also submitted his 13-page research report. “They take your SAT scores and information from the guidance department too.”

Mitchell is one of 300 Intel semifinalists named from 1,698 applicants around the country. He has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship for being named a semifinalist, and Pierson High School will also receive an equal amount. Next Wednesday, 40 finalists will be announced and if Mitchell is included in that list, he will receive another $5,000, a lap top computer and a trip to the White House where he will have one on one time with the scientists who will determine his overall knowledge of the research. The top Intel prize is a $100,000 college scholarship.

 “I am really proud of the science program and the hard work the teachers have put in,” said Pierson vice principal Gary Kalish.

“Our science department is very strong, and I would like to particularly recognize Dr. Schumacher for the mentoring of Andrew,” added Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “If there is any further way the school can help them – we will.”

Dr. Schumacher noted that Pierson has been the only high school on the East End in the last five years to have semifinalists in the 67-year-old science competition. According to Dr. Schumacher, the organizers of the competition require a lot of personal information about the student’s history, grades and other achievements.

For his part, Mitchell is hopeful that this research will help him increase his chances of getting into Dartmouth College.

“I would like to pursue this research after high school,” Mitchell said, “I loved the whole idea of the project.”

“I would like to thank Dr. Robert Schumacher for his constant guidance and positive reinforcement,” wrote Mitchell in his research report. “I thank him the most for never giving me a direct answer and always making me find the answer myself.”