Seniors Caliri and Infantine Create Virus-Catching Membrane to Win Siemens Semifinalist Spot

Seniors Sebastian Caliri and Josh Infantine have been named Semifinalists in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Their award-winning project was entitled “Examining the Feasibility of Viral Filtration Using a Bioconjugated Cross-Linked Polyacrylamide Membrane.” Caliri and Infantine submitted a 17-page research document under the biochemistry category, explaining what their idea was and the results of their experiment. They also wrote an abstract on the experiment, a short synopsis of the entire process. “One of the best selling points about our project is the sheer number of applications – it’s really quite versatile,” said Caliri. In the entire country, only 300 entries are named Semifinalists. The paper went through a rigorous screening process where it was assessed based on the project’s usefulness, the originality of the idea and the scientific explanation within the paper. In the project, Caliri and Infantine made a polymer of acrylamides by mixing them in a solution with bioconjugate and a specific catalyst. This resulted in a gel-like membrane containing acrylamides and bioconjugate. They then attached antibodies to the membrane on the bioconjugate, which has the ability to attach to any kind of antibody. Finally, they put the membrane in a solution with T4 bacteriophage, a type of virus that attacked E. Coli and ultimately proved that the membrane was able to catch the virus. In theory, this membrane should be able to catch any kind of virus in a solution, such as blood, as long as the antibody for the virus is available and can be attached. Realistically, the membrane would have the appropriate antibody attached to it and be put into the body through dialysis. The method has the potential to be adapted to any other type of virus that could develop, including HIV, a virus at pandemic levels. Caliri and Infantine said that they were a good fit to work on this project together. Caliri won the Wadsworth Prize in Molecular Biology last year, and Infantine has a strong chemistry background. The pair was also prepared to take on such a demanding project by their experiences this past summer. Caliri had an internship at Harvard Medical School, and Infantine worked at UMass-Lowell’s Polymer Chemistry Lab. These experiences provided each with invaluable information in lab techniques and also some inspiration. “We actually got the premise of the project from my supervisor at UMass-Lowell,” said Infantine, “but we figured out the means on our own.” The group conducted the experiment in the Biology 600 Lab under the supervision of Dr. Jerry Hagler, Instructor in Biology. Even more noteworthy, the pair finished the entire project in a week and a half. Usually, groups work on their entries for over a year. The Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology is open to high school students “who are willing to challenge themselves through science research.” The top six teams and individuals this year travel to New York University for the national competition. The winning team and individual in the nation each receive $100,000 college scholarships, with the runner-ups receiving scholarships between $10,000 and $50,000. This Spring Term, Caliri and Infantine plan to file a patent based on their project. Next year, Caliri plans to major in molecular biology while Infantine plans to major in chemistry.