EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – While many high school seniors are busy signing yearbooks, shopping for prom dresses and discussing plans for college, Eastchester’s Abigail Orlando has been busy reading, studying and preparing for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz.
Orlando – who was one of 1,600 students from more than 70 countries to attend the fair – saw her hard work pay off, as she took top honors and totaled nearly $5,000 in cash prizes for her project on facial mimicry.
The project, “The Effect of Emoticon Stimuli on Human Facial Muscle Activation and Social Evaluation using Electromyographic Technology: A Novel Determination,” earned Orlando an Intel First Award in Behavioral Science – a $3,000 cash award – for being one of the top two behavioral science projects in the world.
“During my sophomore year, I immersed myself in scientific journals and articles,” Orlando said. “One day, I hit a wall in my studies and realized that the answers to some of my questions did not yet exist. At that point, I wrote a research proposal and set about locating a mentor.”
After searching for a mentor, Orlando came across Christian Gorycki, a teacher at the school. She said Gorycki was instrumental in helping her reach her goals, while still encouraging independent studies.
“Mr. Gorycki was a big help throughout the whole process. During my sophomore and junior years, he met with me once every two weeks to discuss journals I had read, review my research paper and answer questions,” Orlando said. "Although he was always available, he encouraged independence and self-learning.”
In her project, Orlando discovered the facial mimicry effect in response to schematic representation of various faces. Using electromyographic technology and a computer simulation, she found that something as simplistic as a text emoticon was strong enough to elicit physiological and psychological responses from the receiver, akin to face-to-face communication.
Orlando said that her immense project consumed more of her time than any of her other classes or activities inside or outside the classroom.
“To have a successful project, you have to truly enjoy what it is that you are studying, because you will likely spend your entire summer, school breaks and weekends working on the project,” she said. “The ASR program at the high school is rigorous, but the benefits to the student are incredible.”
Jeffrey Capuano, the principal at Eastchester High School, praised Orlando and the work she put forth to elevate her project. He was able to see her work firsthand when she presented at the district’s Advanced Science Research Symposium.
"I had the privilege of listening to Abbie present her research at our Advanced Science Research Symposium,” he said. “What I witnessed was a young lady who has an insatiable level of curiosity, and incredible drive with purpose and an uncanny ability to communicative complex ideas in an understandable way,” he said. “She is one student who has succeeded throughout high school and will definitely make her mark in the future.”
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