The Nichols Hall atrium was the setting for a confluence of art and science at Harker’s fourth annual science research symposium, New Frontiers, in mid-March. Over 300 attendees enjoyed breakfast, The Science of Art display in the upstairs gallery and music by the Harker String Quartet while viewing student presentations on site and streamed via the Internet.
All told, there were 37 MS and US presentations, 22 student papers, two alumni presenters from the class of 2004 and two keynote speakers.
With enthusiasm and confidence, students presented their work and answered questions from both guests and each other. Vikram Sundar, Gr. 7, sought out faculty mentor Rajasree Swaminathan, MS science teacher, and the Science Research Club to support his look at the use of capacitors to provide a steady current to charge solar lithium-ion batteries. “Research is a lot of fun,” Sundar said. “You can make it your own.”
“Kids argue logic and reasoning with one another, and challenge each other to do better and better,” said Huali G. Chai, mother of Siemens semifinalist Andrew Stanek, Gr. 12.
Papers were given on topics ranging from a survey of insect pollinator biodiversity on plants in Costa Rica to the activation of two proteins by airborne particulates relative to lung damage.
Emily Carr, Gr. 12, credited her faculty mentor, biology teacher Kate Schafer, with inspiring her to take Harker’s research class and develop her work on the effect of estrogens on sea urchins. “The class was terrific and Harker was very supportive,” Carr said.
Intel finalist Denzil Sikka, Gr. 12, credited Harker’s research class with the opportunity and support to develop a new algorithm for aligning large data sets. “Harker teachers are really open,” she said. “As long as you are willing to put in the work, they are willing to support you.”
Senior Dominique Dabija found a summer internship at Stanford University to develop her program that makes it easier to visualize the way a signal travels in a protein, and its effect on amino acids. She is also a member of Harker’s Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (WiSTEM) club, conducted the symposium’s CSI: Harker workshop, and was an Intel and Siemens semifinalist.
From afar, alumni Alfred Pokmeng See ’04, Johns Hopkins University, and Nikhil Deshmukh ’04, Princeton University, each led interactive videoconference sessions on their work with malignant brain tumors and neural activity in spatial navigation, respectively. This year’s event also featured two keynote speakers. Nimet Maherali, Ph.D. candidate at Har vard University Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cancer, spoke about “Cellular Alchemy and the Making of a Research Scientist.” Dr. Andrew Chan, senior vice president of immunology and antibody engineering at Genentech, addressed guests regarding “Science, Biotechnology and Medicine in the 21st Centur y.” Sponsors for this year’s event were Roche, Fortebio, Hunter Labs, Nanosyn, Pearl Therapeutics, Relypsa and Health Hero Network/Bosch.
The symposium was established by Anita Chetty, science department chair, as an opportunity for students to enter research competitions and share their work prior to graduation, and for alumni and other research leaders to link lab work with real world applications and careers. Alumnus Deshmukh noted, “I think it’s fair to say that the majority of my peers in graduate school did not even know what research was until junior or senior year of college; to have such an experience as a high school student can make a huge difference.”
Cal Tech student Aarathi Minisandram ’08 credits Chetty with helping her solidify her interest in pre-med. “The symposium is amazing,” she said. “The upper school resources are better than most colleges and the variety of science courses helped me broaden my horizons.” Minisandram ser ved as WiSTEM co-president when at Harker. “You see companies here and they are really interested in our work,” said Minisandram.
Chetty expressed her delight in the completion of Nichols Hall, which brings together all the sciences in one location and promotes the sharing of knowledge. “Thank you for making my dreams come true,” Chetty said as she expressed appreciation to the students, parents, mentors and faculty for their passion and patience, along with alumni who represent Harker and return to share. She also thanked the administration and lifetime trustee Diana Nichols for their support. Looking ahead, Chetty hopes to increase opportunities for students to find mentors, and expand the event to include students from schools across the country. She is also considering videoconferencing with sister schools in Australia and Switzerland. Next year’s symposium will be held on March 20, 2010.