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Chemical Attraction: Teens 'Learn by Doing' at Chem/Biochem Internship

Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010

buring biofuel at Chem/Biochem camp at USU
Biochemistry doctoral student Brad Wahlen, left, burns biodiesel the group has made in the lab from soybean oil on a camp stove, as high school interns Cari Thorne, Mountain Crest High School, and Lukas Gabert, West High School, observe.
lab instruction at Chem/Biochem workshop
Clad in tie-dyed lab coats, undergraduate mentor Heather Tarbet, right, instructs, from left, Karlee Perry, Box Elder High School, and Julie Xu, West High School, in faculty member Joanie Hevel's lab.
When school starts and teachers assign “What I Did During My Summer Vacation” essays, a group of aspiring scientists will have lots to write about.
July 6-9, 14 high school students from throughout Utah, along with one participant from Kansas, grew protein crystals, explored molecular modeling and made biofuel at Utah State University's fourth annual Summer High School Chemistry and Biochemistry Internship. Hosted by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the gathering is designed to introduce teens to science at the university level and give them a glimpse of campus life.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Allison Fife, a student at Utah’s Sky View High School. “I liked learning about nanotechnology and hearing about what we can do in the future.”
Megan Smith, who attends Shawnee Mission West High School in Lenexa, Kan., said she liked having the opportunity to get into a research lab.
“It was fun to actually get to do experiments and find results,” said Smith, whose mother is a USU alum and whose grandparents live in Logan.
During the week, participants gathered for group seminars on such topics as environmental health and safety, DNA sequencing, advanced lab techniques and protein purification. But, for the bulk of their time, they worked one-on-one with faculty and student mentors in the lab on research projects of their choice.
Learning chemistry basics from lectures and textbooks is essential but it can be less than exciting, said faculty presenter Lance Seefeldt.
“What’s exciting is getting into the lab, experiencing cutting-edge research and learning how it can be used to solve the world’s problems,” he said. “It’s important that we, as university researchers, show students how excited we are about science and encourage them to continue their pursuit of science in high school and in college.”
In Seefeldt’s lab, the interns learned how biofuels are made and how the biochemistry professor and his team are developing cost-effective ways to make environmentally friendly fuel from algae. Working with Seefeldt and graduate student mentors, the teens made biodiesel from soybean oil and used it to power a camp stove.
Interns stayed in the Living/Learning Center during their USU visit, where they participated in evening recreational activities led by chemistry and biochemistry undergraduates. On the final day of the gathering, the teens presented their research projects to family and friends, after which all enjoyed an outdoor barbeque party.
“Science isn’t just about memorizing what other scientists have done,” said Alvan Hengge, internship organizer and department head. “It’s about gaining new knowledge and making your own discoveries. That's what we try to show our participants.”
Related links:
Contact: Alvan Hengge, 435-797-3442, alvan.hengge@usu.edu
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

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