science interns reach regional finals in Siemens Westinghouse competition
High school student Justine Nagurney entered BU's Research Internship
Program in Science and Engineering this past summer with limited research
experience -- she had mastered the ability to follow the step-by-step
instructions in her high school course manuals and had learned basic biology
lab skills at a prior internship.
But within a week of joining the lab of Jagadeesh Moodera, an MIT physics
professor, Nagurney, a senior at Boston's Winsor School, was designing
and performing original experiments. After several weeks spent investigating
the superconducting properties of the compound magnesium diboride, Nagurney
had helped discover that thin films of magnesium diboride can superconduct
at 26 degrees Kelvin, one degree warmer than previous research had indicated
Nagurney was one of 18 high students entering their senior year who participated
in BU's six-week Research Internship Program in Science and Engineering
this summer. Under the tutelage of a faculty mentor, the interns, who
live at BU, help design and complete a research project in physics, engineering,
astronomy, chemistry, or biology at BU or at a nearby institution.
"There's nothing like doing experiments that have never been done
before, rather than simply learning a lesson that you're supposed to know,"
says Nagurney, who aspires to be a surgeon and medical researcher. "It
can be scary to not know what's going to happen next when you're doing
real research, but it's also more rewarding that I could have imagined."
Nagurney's research recently earned her a regional finalist spot and a
$1,000 scholarship in the Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology
Awards for Advanced Placement, an annual science competition for high
school students. Kirsten Frieda, a senior at Westlake High School in Austin,
Tex., also won a $1,000 Siemens scholarship and advanced to the competition's
regional finals for research she completed this summer with Amy Mullin,
a CAS associate chemistry professor. Frieda used computer modeling programs
to demonstrate how the rotation of some molecules affects the way they
act during high-energy collisions.
In addition, semifinalists in this year's Siemens Westinghouse awards
included three other Research Internship Program participants: Denise
S. Tai, who attends Hillsborough High School, in Tampa, Fla., and who
was mentored by Vijay Kuchroo, a neurologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital;
and Aaron N. Ligon, from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., and
Chen Li, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, N.Y.,
both of whom were mentored by George Zimmerman, a CAS physics professor
emeritus. The awards are funded by the Siemens Foundation, the philanthropic
arm of Siemens AG, an electronics and mobile communications company.
On November 3, Nagurney competed in the Northeast regional finals of the
Siemens Westinghouse awards against four other students for a $3,000 scholarship
and the right to compete for the $100,000 national scholarship. Nagurney
did not win in the regional finals; Frieda competes in the Southwestern
regional finals on November 16.
According to Dan Welty, a physics teacher at Algonquin Regional High School,
in Northborough, Mass., who has directed the program since 1997, the success
of BU's summer interns in the Siemens Westinghouse competition speaks
of the "high level of research" demanded by the internship program.
"The goal of the program is to give highly motivated high school
students real-life experience in a university lab setting, allowing them
to gain skills in the latest research techniques," Welty says. "Most
of them are intimidated at first to be working with a professor. But by
the end of the six weeks, their confidence goes way up as they see that
they can succeed in that kind of environment. The program also gives many
of the students their first independent living experience. It's like a
trial run for going to college."
The interns typically complete a week of intense study to prepare for
their research projects, which often require them to learn a computer
program such as C or C++. The research teams who mentor them benefit from
their effort. "The work Kirsten did was something I had hoped a graduate
student would do for me for some time," says Mullin. "She came
right in and was able to get up to speed. She kept about 25 different
parameters at her fingertips, and she got the job done. Her work helped
our research team explain our data, and it will be used in an article."
BU's summer program, which has spawned "many finalists in science
talent searches," according to Lawrence Sulak, a CAS physics professor
and chairman of the department, was started 25 years ago and was directed
for many years by Zimmerman. It operates under the auspices of the CAS
For more information about Boston University's Research Internship Program
in Science and Engineering, visit http://physics.bu.edu/bu/hsprograms/rip.html.
For more information about the Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology
Awards for Advanced Placement, visit www.siemens-foundation.org.