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More Honors for Scientist

Massapequa Native Kerry Samerotte Wins Nationwide Competition In Field of Molecular Biology

In March 2000, Dr. Kerry Samerotte, then Kerry Geiler, a student at Massapequa High School, was named as a seventh place winner in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search.

But that was only the start of her many achievements in the world of scientific research.

Since than, Dr. Samerotte’s career has gone from one triumph to the next. After graduating from Massapequa High School, Kerry attended Cornell University as a Presidential Research Scholar. After Cornell, she did postgraduate work at Harvard University, where she majored in Molecular and Evolutionary Biology.

This past May, Dr. Samerotte received her Ph.D from Harvard in that same subject. But her biggest achievement came in late July when Kerry not only presented her research at the equally prestigious International Society for Molecular Biology as a Finalist in the Walter Fitch Competition, but where she came out as the winner among a field that included the top students nationwide in that field.

The Fitch competition is named for Walter Fitch, a longtime professor of molecular evolution at the University of California, who, among other honors, served as the first president of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Dr. Samerotte’s award-winning presentation was entitled, “The selective cost of misfolded protein toxicity and a concomitant evolutionary adaptation.” To qualify for the award, Kerry had to present an abstract indicating her interest in the competition. At the Walter M. Fitch Symposium, held at the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE) in Kyoto, Japan, each participant had to present their thesis in a 15-minute talk. An anonymous expert panel chose the winner.

“I was really honored to win the award,” Kerry said.

Dr. Samerotte is currently doing postdoctoral work at New York University. She is continuing research work at the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, all in the hopes of finding a professoriate position. At Harvard, Dr. Samerotte worked in the Drummond and Hartl Labs.

Growing up in Massapequa, Kerry always had an interest in science, one that was helped along by grade school and middle school teachers, including Ms. Buchholz and Ms. Duryea at Birch Lane Elementary, plus Ms. Lannan at Massapequa High School. In fact, Kerry dedicated her dissertation to one MHS teacher, Dr. Paul Lichtman, who remains one of her biggest fans.

“This competition [the Fitch Award] is the most important one for graduate students,” Dr. Lichtman told The Massapequan Observer. “This is probably one of the biggest achievements [in the scientific field] from a Massapequa resident. Her journey has been incredible. Winning at this competition is incredible.”

Dr. Lichtman, who is now the advisor of the research program for the Uniondale Public Schools, was Dr. Samerotte’s science research advisor at Massapequa High School.

“As I have followed her career, I have never been more proud of a former student,” he added. “Kerry was my first Intel finalist and winner.”

At Massapequa High School, Kerry Samerotte was known as the “Ant Queen.” When she won the Intel competition in 2000, it had to do with her research on those tiny insects, one that determined how various species of ants communicate with each other. According to an article in the March 17, 2000 edition of The Massapequan Observer, “Kerry decoded the language that ants use to ‘talk’ to each other by assigning a code for the various movements made by them. She also identified a chemical ants secrete to communicate messages to the entire colony.”

In 2000, Kerry was named a semifinalist from a pool of more than 1,500 students. Her seventh place finish was among the best of 40 finalists throughout the country. For her efforts, Kerry received a $20,000 scholarship.

At Massapequa High School, Kerry earned a black belt in karate; she also played saxophone and was editor of the school newspaper. Needless to say, she was also one of the top-rated students in her class.