Editor's note: this article was originally posted on Brookhaven National Laboratory's website.
Imagine being a high school student and having the opportunity to do hands-on experiments at a national laboratory. Then, imagine you get to do it twice!
That’s exactly what five local high school students got to do at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory this past August as participants in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Prep Scholar Program, a new phase of Brookhaven’s existing STEM Prep Summer Institute (SPSI). The programs are coordinated by the Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP).
“We recognized that there were some gaps in our high school programs,” said Scott Bronson, manager of the K-12 programs in OEP. “The students would participate in SPSI as high school freshmen, but then weren’t eligible for any high school programs until they were juniors or seniors. We wanted to offer continuous opportunities, and we thought having them return for a second term under SPSI would help them stay connected to the Lab’s educational programs and keep them engaged in science.”
“We believe this program has helped stimulate a broader interest and awareness in STEM fields by strengthening academic training and providing hands-on experience,” said Aleida Perez, an educational programs administrator in OEP. “Under this new phase of the SPSI program, the students get to return to the Lab and re-visit scientific facilities to explore and gain a better understanding of scientific topics that are matched to their personal interests.”
SPSI started about 25 years ago under the name of Brookhaven’s Minority High School Apprenticeship Program Institute as an environmental outreach program for 9th grade minority students. Since that time, more than 500 students have participated in the program. Today, SPSI focuses on four primary science disciplines: biochemistry, scientific computing, physics, and environmental sciences.
The student activities for SPSI include building an underwater remotely-operated vehicle that the students test in the Lab pool and taking a boat ride on local waterways to capture environmental samples that students then test for DNA barcoding.
Students participating in the new STEM Prep Scholar portion of the program study how optics are used in telescopes and at the National Synchrotron Light Source II—a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven—as well as the importance of protein structures and their functions as they relate to drug discovery and delivery. Students also build a Helmholtz coil, a device for producing a region of nearly uniform magnetic fields, to measure the charge-to-mass ratio of an electron. The activities also teach the students how to use computing to investigate and solve scientific questions.
With funding from the Lab’s Nuclear Particle Physics Inclusion and Diversity Program, OEP was able to develop this new phase of SPSI and bring students back to the Lab under the STEM Prep Scholar Program.
“These programs are just one avenue designed by OEP to demonstrate to our younger students the incredible science happening at Brookhaven and how much there is to explore,” added Perez. “Capturing their enthusiasm at a young age and offering programs and internships that keep them interested is key to inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders.”