Rockefeller University’s Great Science Program for High School Students
A 14-acre idyllic oasis in the heart of Manhattan, Rockefeller University, which is shaded by old trees and multi-colored flowers along the scenic East River, houses one of the best summer science programs for high school students in the nation. It also has the most Nobel laureates on staff in the country.
Recently, high school and college students across the country presented their finished research to show the progress they achieved during the 2011 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program and the Summer Science Research Program for High School Students and Teachers.
Fifty-six high school students and 17 college students had the opportunity to work in one of the campus’ 70 scientific research labs during the summer, conducting experiments and collecting research. During the program, each student was matched with a graduate or post-doctoral student and together they would create hypotheses, run tests and draw conclusions. The research is on cutting-edge topics of interest for the 21st century and quite challenging in nature.
The Collaborative Research Center was filled with 71 final projects from the science research program participants. Ted Scovell, director of the science programs, expressed his excitement of the progress the students had made during their short stay, underscoring the wonderful surprises of science.
“If you do an experiment, and you’re surprised, that’s discovery,” he said.
He also mentioned that science doesn’t always happen over a summer; it takes years to complete. However, there were a few students who had made tremendous discoveries during the session. Joseph Obiajulu was one of them.
Obiajulu studied the identification of genetic elements conferring heterologous gene expression capabilities in Streptomyces albus in the Brady Lab. During his stay, he was able to combine the attributes of two different bacteria to create a new type of bacteria that could be created into an antibiotic. A junior at Union County Magnet High School, Obiajulu said he likes to take what is made and turn it into something new, using his knowledge of biology, physics and engineering. He has been interested in science since a “moment of spark” in third grade when he saw the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. He would definitely recommend the program to other students interested in science.
“The first week you feel very clumsy. It’s a very humbling experience. But over time, you start to think in a scientific way,” he said.
“It’s a very rewarding program, because you get to do a real science job in a real lab to get a real result,” said Lucian Li, a senior at Stuyvesant High School.
One returning high school student took a different approach and compiled a video presentation. Hyewon Kim from Mexico wanted to try something different and created an abstract video called ArtScience, the search for artistic beauty in a scientific field. Last year, she, like all the other students, made a poster, but this time, she wanted to “embrace what comes to [her].” Kim described how she was always interested in both the arts and science. The video medium gave her the freedom to explore her environment and discover visual similarities between the two. For example, her video shows her walking down eight flights of stairs in the dorms she was staying in and how she correlated that to the double helix of DNA, an example of science in everyday life.
“Here, we see the beauty of science,” she said. Kim will be going to Princeton University in the fall.
“One of the benefits of this program is how it’s different from a normal high school science class,” said Emily Harms, the assistant dean for graduate studies at Rockefeller University. “In a normal classroom, you know the answer. In this program, you’re asking questions with no answers so you can see what a research career is really about.”
“We love the kids who have never done research before,” Scovell said. “We look for kids with a love of science. This one kid, his grades weren’t great, but in his essay he talked about his experience building a computer and fixing his car. That’s love for science.”
Scovell is looking to expand his program into the school year to create longer lasting relationships with the students because of the positive experience that so many of the participants had.
“It’s nice to be in a place where everyone likes science,” Obiajulu said. “You’re not afraid to crack the occasional scientific joke.” #