Young scholars get a taste for science in the summer

High school students from around the state are working in Northeastern research labs this summer through the Young Scholars Program. Photo via Thinkstock.

Twenty-four high school students listened intently as civil and environmental engineering assistant professor Matthew Eckelman presented his research on modeling the energy inputs and outputs of commercial products and processes.

At the end of the lecture, Eckelman revealed a surprising fact. “Seventeen years ago I was where you are now,” he told the students, who gathered in Shillman Hall last Thursday. “I was a young scholar here at Northeastern.”

He was referring to his participation in the Center for STEM Education’s Young Scholars Program, which offers future scientists and engineers in Boston-area high schools paid research positions in university labs.

Claire Duggan, the center’s director of programs and operations, launched the program in 1989 in response to the growing shortage of U.S. students in science, technology, engineering, and math. Many of the program’s alumni are currently studying at Northeastern and other universities around the country, she said.

“Research strongly shows that the earlier students are able to envision themselves in these roles, the more likely they are to persist in a STEM field,” Duggan explained. “The long-term success of the NUYSP program reinforces these findings.”

The students who attended last week’s lecture are among the state’s highest achieving young scholars, according to Duggan, and have set their sights on science and engineering careers. They will spend the next six weeks working in Northeastern research laboratories across the College of Science and the College of Engineering.

Some will be in the Laboratory of Biomaterials and Advanced Nano-Delivery Systems, with Mansoor Amiji, Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, whose research focuses on the development of imaging and therapeutic technologies for addressing challenging problems in cancer, inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases. Others will help develop nanofluidic microbial detection platforms in the lab of Edgar Goluch, assistant professor of chemical engineering. Still others will work with associate professor of civil and environmental engineering Ferdi Hellweger on computational modeling systems to predict water quality conditions in places like the Charles River.

Satwick Kamarthi, who attends Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, Mass., is working in the Synergetic Media Learning Lab, known as the SMILE lab. Directed by electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Raymond Fu, the lab focuses on applied machine learning, social media analytics, and human-computer interaction.

“I spent last summer volunteering at a hospital,” Kamarthi said, but this time “I wanted to do something more in depth in science.”

YSP is not the center’s only program for students interested in science and engineering. This summer 48 elementary and middle school students are learning to apply their engineering skills to design a city of the future.

Three current YSP students have participated in the summer science program in the past. One of them is Zion Bereket, who is spending the summer conducting research with Annalisa Onnis-Hayden, a postdoctoral research associate in associate professor of civil and environmental engineering April Gu’s lab.

“In middle school we were looking around at the different areas,” Bereket said. “Then they were saying ‘this is what you could do.’ And now we’re actually doing it.”