Nichols Hall on the Saratoga campus hummed with energy on April 10 during Harker’s fifth annual research symposium, “Technology for Life.” Begun in 2005 by upper school biology teacher and science department chair Anita Chetty, the student-led event is modeled after professional symposia that encourage the sharing of ideas in a non-competitive setting.
More than 300 people and 69 student presenters attended the increasingly popular event. “Each year sets a new standard and because of the nature of our community, we simply use that standard to grow from,” said Chetty. Three alumni also presented their current university research, and two keynote speakers linked science backgrounds to careers.
The day included breakout sessions led by 19 upper school students and poster presentations by an additional 16 students. Senior Anjali Menon formally presented her work with IBM’s Almaden facility, on using computers to replace human subjects in simulating the action of drug molecules. Her mother, Indira Somanathan, is enthusiastic about Harker’s research program. “Here you have your own facilities and technology. I’m really happy with Nichols Hall,” she said.
Amy Zhou, sponsor coordinator for the symposium and mother of Jason Young, Gr. 11, thinks Nichols Hall plays a big part in the excitement that middle school students have for science. “The level of science is getting better and better every year,” she said. “The teachers are encouraging and give you time to work in the lab, and the research class allows you to learn more skills like writing and presentation.” Young presented his work with epigenetic regulation of gene expression, which he will continue at the University of California, San Diego this summer.
The Chemistry Club presented demonstrations, and at a “Harker Hospital” workshop, middle school students, under the guidance of upper school students, ran EKGs, took blood pressure readings and analyzed simulated blood samples. “This was a great opportunity for us to not only showcase some of our sophisticated data acquisition tools, it was also a chance for our upper school students to mentor and inspire younger Harker students,” said Chetty.
Divya Kalidindi and Namita Ravi, both Gr. 8, were two of 34 middle school students on hand to discuss their poster presentations. By studying the effect of caffeine on the regeneration of body parts in planaria, they found that caffeine could halve the time required for planaria to grow a new head. Looking forward to working in Nichols Hall next year, Kalidindi said, “The center seems more professional. It is going to be really fun.” Ravi added, “The topics are really good here.”
Inspired by his Gr. 8 study of respiration to research the effect of phosphate on algae blooms in aquatic ecosystems, Josh Batra said, “It was fun to see my experiment in action.” Batra is looking forward to more exposure to biology and physics in the upper school.
Event sponsors offered hands-on technology demonstrations and career advice for students and parents. Brendon Yu, Gr. 8, stood in line to try out Autosuture, by Covidien Surgical. Taking a turn at the hand instruments for suturing, Yu said, “This helps you get inside the body and sew delicate arteries. It requires a lot of practice.”
The day closed with a workshop titled “Research Internships, Technical Writing and Research Competitions,” led by a panel of seniors. “These articulate and talented students gave such an informative talk that parents wanted to hear it again,” Chetty said. The videotaped presentation will be linked off of the research website. “The prospect of approaching a university researcher can be daunting. Seeing that their Harker peers have been successful in doing so is highly encouraging,” Chetty continued. “Presentations such as this one continue to assist in moving forward the mandate of the symposium, which is that it is a student-led research conference for students.”