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Intel ISEF alumna headed to Capitol Hill

By Wendy Li

Alexandria with her project for ISEF 2007.

Congratulations to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (ISEF 2007) on winning her election to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District! In 2007, Alexandria placed second in the International Science and Engineering Fair in the Microbiology category with her project on the effect of antioxidants on roundworms.

As a science student at Yorktown High School, Alexandria tested the effect of various antioxidants on the lifespan of roundworms, known as Caenorhabditis elegans.

When organisms are under oxidative stress, there are more free radicals (chemicals with unpaired electrons) than antioxidants in the body to neutralize them. Those free radicals react quickly with many other chemicals, and without antioxidants to neutralize them, create cellular chaos. Such an unstable cellular environment has been hypothesized to be responsible for wrinkles, neurological diseases and even cancer.

Alexandria chose compounds with the highest cited number of antioxidant capabilities and observed how they impacted longevity of the roundworms. In some cases, lifespan was prolonged for as many as 33 days, almost doubling the nematode’s normal lifespan. Her findings indicated that antioxidants could potentially help prevent degenerative illnesses induced by oxidative stress.

Alexandria explaining her project to Craig Barrett, retired Chief Executive Officer/Chairman of the Board, Intel Corporation and Society Board of Trustees member.

Science was Alexandria’s first passion. According to an interview with the New Yorker, she had aspired to be an obstetrician-gynecologist, yet even as a young scientist, she saw politics in science research. As her high school science teacher Michael Blueglass recounted to the New York Times, “she was interested in research to help people in all areas, including developing nations, not just for the people with money.” Alexandria went on to attend Boston University, where she started out as a science major, but later graduated with a degree in economics and international relations.

In Congress, Alexandria will certainly make use of the skills that helped her succeed in science fair: communication and public speaking skills in addition to persistence and a logical approach to problem solving.

You can watch her recent interview on CBS News’ 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper where she discusses her upbringing and what brought her to Capitol Hill.