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Indian American Hewlett High seniors win $100,000 Siemens grand prize
(L to R) Priyanka Wadgaonkar, Zainab Mahmood and Jia Wen Pai

New York: Three George W. Hewlett  High School students won the $100,000 grand prize Tuesday in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology -- making the high school the first ever to win back-to-back team victories in the premier national research contest.

The seniors -- Priyanka Wadgaonkar, 16, JiaWen Pei, 17, and Zainab Mahmood, 17 -- found that plants with multiple copies of genes that help with ozone tolerance are more resistant to environmental impacts. Their findings have implications for effects from drought and pollution to salt and bacteria, potentially lessening crop losses.

"We were really ecstatic and incredibly excited," Wadgaonkar said after the announcement at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "We had the chance to represent our school and we were happy to prove that research can be accomplished everywhere."

Student researchers at Hewlett High conduct their research in the high school's lab, unlike those at many Long Island schools, who partner with universities to do their work for such competitions.

Zainab Mahmood, 17, of Hewlett, is a member of the National Honor Society, a Euro-Challenge semifinalist, recipient of the United States Army Award and second-place winner of the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair. In her free time, she volunteers at the Franklin Early Childhood Center and plays varsity lacrosse. She plans to pursue a career in engineering.

JiaWen Pei, 17, of Valley Stream, has a longstanding interest in biomedical sciences and aspires to become a physician. Captain of Hewlett High's fencing team, she also is a member of the National Honor Society, the Foreign Language Honor Society and the school chorus and orchestra.

Priyanka Wadgaonkar, 16, of Woodmere, said her parents' work as a cell biologist and a gastroenterologist sparked her interest in science, as well as her aspiration to become an emergency room physician. She is a recipient of the George Eastman Young Leaders Award and chair of the school's Cabaret Night Business Committee.

The Siemens Competition, launched in 1998, is one of the two best-known student research contests in the country.

Update: 16-December-2013