Summer in the Lab

by Xinyi Zhou

Before heading off to the University of Maryland at College Park for the summer, Li Ma excitedly told his classmates that nobody knows what happens when eutectics - mixtures where all the constituents melt simultaneously - and nanowires are put together.  "And that's why we're doing it," he declared.

National Institutes of Health Image Bank
Every year in the second semester of the their junior years, the vast majority of Magnet students search for mentors and research projects.  In the process, they choose a field in which to specialize, and they learn to write resumes and cover letters to impress potential mentors. How do mere high school students land internships from researchers who could take on undergraduate and graduate volunteers instead?  Advanced Magnet courses like Physical Chemistry and Cellular Physiology teach students high-level science, and give them hands-on experience with lab techniques.  The Senior Research Project (SRP) class shows them how to interact in the academic world.

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Nathan Coussens seems to agree. He has been guiding Eric Wan through his project on delineating the interactions within the T-cell interaction pathway, and remarked, “Eric was comfortable with quite a bit of the concepts […] it made the transition [to the lab] for him a lot easier.”  But this summer hasn’t been without its mishaps. Allison Arai has been studying factors that cause genes to insert in specific parts of the fruit fly genome, and sheepishly recalled letting a few flies escape on her first day in the lab. But several weeks into her internship, Arai was surprised at “how much [she] likes working with flies.”

All in all, Ms. Elizabeth Duval, who is new to teaching SRP, admits she is “really surprised how positive everything has been.”  Over the summer, Ms. Duval has been preparing to take over the senior year component of the SRP course from Ms. Susan Ragan, reading almost 100 proposals and meeting nearly every mentor and student over the summer. But she’s still visibly excited for every class, and credits Ms. Ragan for a “flawless” transition.

Science Talent Search

The Blair Magnet has had 34 Science Talent Search Finalists over the past 25 years, including a first place winner, Jacob Lurie in 1996, a record six finalists in 1999, and at least one finalist every year from 1998 to 2008.

Although the majority of students find internships close to home, such as at NIH and UMD, some students accept opportunities further away from home. Jacob Hurwitz headed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to research what fraction of the vertices in an infinite graph must be removed to eliminate all cycles, which are paths from a vertex to itself. In contrast, Jeremy “Ozzie” Fallick stayed at home for his SRP to pursue an independent project blending computer science and history, his two main academic interests. Fallick is “ecstatic” about the result, a program that predicts the outcome of ancient battles to over 90% accuracy.

Even though some students are collecting data after schooldays and on weekends, this fall, everyone is scrambling daily in SRP class to write their papers.  Some students, such as Fallick, have already finished the first draft of their papers, and these will be meticulously edited by classmates, mentors, and of course, Ms. Duval.  The deadline for the Siemens Competition is October 1st, which is only a few weeks after the start of the school year, and Intel Science Talent Search submissions are due November 18th. Blair Magnet students have traditionally done very well in these competitions, and last year’s projects produced twelve Intel semifinalists and eight Siemens semifinalists.  Although there is no telling how this year’s projects will fare, the students are definitely excited. We wish them the very best of luck!