When the world’s most accomplished scientists gathered for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose recently, a cadre of the nation’s most promising high school scientists gathered too.
Some of those students had an opportunity to experience science at Stanford during a visit to the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and to the main campus.
The 36 students who participated in the Stanford tour were fellows in the American Junior Academy of Science (AJAS), a national honor society for students who have completed exemplary scientific research projects while attending high school. Each affiliated (city, state, or regional) Academy of Science nominates their top high school science researchers, and these students, along with their teachers, are invited to the AJAS annual conference, held during the AAAS annual meeting.
The students, who were accompanied by teachers, parents and other officials, began their day at SLAC, a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science facility operated by Stanford.
JOSH TURNER, a scientist at Linac Coherhent Light Source (LCLS), presented a “day in the life at an x-ray laser.” The students also toured the LCLS’s experimental halls and visited the klystron gallery – looking down the two-mile accelerator.
“The students and accompanying chaperones were able to see science in action as researchers prepared experiments, visiting stations set for recreating extreme states of matter (like those at the heart of Jupiter) and for studying the atomic structures of complex and critical proteins like those active in photosynthesis,” said MELINDA LEE, who manages community relations for the SLAC Office of Communication. “‘Cool’ and ‘Awesome’ were most frequently used descriptors,” Lee added.
Following the SLAC visit, the group visited the main campus and spent time in the Chemistry Department. They were blown away by the science and captivated by the beauty of the campus.
HENRY MAGUN, a Stanford freshman and former AJAS fellow, helped with planning the visit and checked in with the students while they were on campus.
We are privileged to honor you, your teachers, your parents, and
your AAAS affiliated Academy of Science representative
at the 2015 AJAS/NAAS/AAAS Conference
February 11th-15th -- San Jose, CA
AJAS is America's only honor research society for high school scientists. Each state's Academy of Science selects the premier middle and high school researchers from their state to be lifetime fellows in AJAS.
Each year, AJAS hosts a conference to honor these students and to induct them as fellows into AJAS. The conference is always held in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Conference.
The day started with a well-received lecture on brain plasticity by Mriganka Sur, the Paul E. Newton Professor of Neuroscience at MIT. “It was absolutely fantastic to be given the opportunity to listen to a prominent professor talk about his work,” said Kanithra Sekaran, a high school student from Ohio who is now contemplating a career in neuroscience.
After the talk, the students visited research labs and met with MIT scientists, had lunch with graduate students at the Faculty Club, toured the campus and ended the day with a free visit to the MIT Museum. In total, 17 labs and more than 30 MIT scientists took part in the event.
Mandana Sassanfar, director of science outreach for the Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences departments, organized the day for the delegates. "Seeing such excitement and interest from these talented high schoolers is a wonderful reminder of how important it is for scientists to inspire and encourage young students to pursue a career in science and technology,” said Sassanfar, who is president of the National Association of Academies of Science, an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
MIT Institute Professor Phillip Sharp, who is the new president of AAAS, praised the AJAS delegates during their visit. "The American Junior Academy of Science recognizes the remarkable achievements of young scientists in independent research," he said. “Their projects have been selected from across the nation as the most outstanding and we congratulate them.”
The high school students had positive things to say about MIT, as well.
“The best part about our tour day at MIT was seeing real scientists working in their labs on cutting edge research,” said Hale Miller of Ohio.
“They [the scientists] were so excited about their work, and so wiling to share everything they knew,” added Michelle Nemetchek, one of two students from Montana.
Some students reveled in the behind-the-scenes lab visits. “I’ve seen some images of fiber construction on TV shows, but being able to see first hand the process behind designing and developing these fibers was a very cool experience,” Jonathan Flynn, a senior from Braintree High School, said after visiting the Fink lab in the Research Laboratory of Electronics.
In that lab, postdoc Xiaoting Jia explained the making of microfibers for superconductors and demonstrated how preformed fibers were extended in the drawing tower located in the basement of Building 13. “It was very exciting for me to see so much curiosity from these high school students,” Jia said. “I really enjoyed the experience.”
MIT’s Media Lab was a favorite stop for California’s Léa Tran Le, who uses Scratch, children’s programming software designed in the lab. “I really enjoyed learning about CT scanning machines in the animal imaging facilities and seeing Eric Rosenbaum's research in helping kindergartners learn better through Scratch,” she said.
In fact, the Media Lab was a popular destination for a few others in the tour group, as well. “The Media Lab was amazing,” said Grace Griggs, a sophomore from Vermont. “It was like a scientist’s playground of crazy, creative inventions.”
“Meeting the creators of objects used in our everyday lives was quite inspirational,” added Hayden Allen, a senior from Oklahoma.
MIT students and staffers who exhibited their work for the tour said the students were certainly an inquisitive bunch. “They were very engaged and very interested to hear what kind of problems we were working on,” said Michael Funk, a fourth-year chemistry graduate student who works in the Drennan Research and Education Laboratory.
“A couple asked very insightful questions,” added Bob Grant, who showed students around the Structural Biology Core Facility, which he directs.
The event was co-sponsored by the schools of Science, Engineering, and Architecture and Planning, as well as the Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences departments.
Listen to Lee Brogie, AJAS Executive Director, and various Student Delegates discuss the 2012 AJAS Conference in Vancouver, BC!