Verdi's Messa da Requiem on Monday, November 19, at 8 p.m., at Symphony Hall, presented by the Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus
Week of  2 November 2001 · Vol. V, No. 12


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BU science interns reach regional finals in Siemens Westinghouse competition

By David J. Craig

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.

  Denise Tai, of Tampa, Fla., was among 18 high school students entering their senior year who participated in BU's Research Internship Program in Science and Engineering this summer. Photo courtesy of CAS physics department

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 was possible.

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.


High school students participating in BU's summer Research Internship Program in Science and Engineering this year investigated the superconducting properties of magnesium diboride in the laboratory of Jagadeesh Moodera, an MIT physics professor. Photo courtesy of CAS physics department


"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 physics department.

For more information about Boston University's Research Internship Program in Science and Engineering, visit For more information about the Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Awards for Advanced Placement, visit


9 November 2001
Boston University
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