While their peers indulged in summer vacation, a group of high school students from across Illinois experienced research at the university level during the Illinois Summer Research Academy (ISRA).
The weeklong academy immersed high school students in campus life at Illinois State while giving many their first taste of working in a real research laboratory. ISRA, which was held June 10–14, is sponsored by Illinois State’s Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology (CeMaST).
“My favorite part has been doing the actual science,” said Anagha Arla, a student from Normal Community High School. “In high school, we aren’t able to get this hands-on.”
Arla was one of 45 students to attend the 10th annual academy, which offered students research opportunities in biology, chemistry, and information technology. Under the guidance of Illinois State faculty and graduate students, the high schoolers delved into neuroscience, nanoscience, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, and app invention. The breadth of subjects persuades many ISRA attendees to return to the academy.
“I’ve had many students who want to come back year after year,” said Jun-Hyun Kim, associate professor of nanoscience and materials chemistry. “I even had one student who wanted to continue doing research in my lab over the summer.”
The Illinois State faculty enjoy witnessing the students’ passion for science. “What they learn here is somewhat different from what they have learned in the classroom setting,” said Kim. “The young students get to develop a new idea of science.”
Arla worked in a group striving to find the right pH level for gold nanoparticles to exist. When the researchers are able to get antibodies to stick to the gold nanoparticles, they can use the nanoparticles to detect a certain protein or cancer cell, for example. Nanoparticles have important potential in the world of medicine.
Courtney Redey, a high school senior from Naperville, researched two proteins during the academy. “I’ve been culturing cells and purifying the proteins.” The goal of Redey’s research was to identify certain antibodies that are particular to the proteins in her study.
“The faculty have been very helpful,” said Redey. “They have guided us through everything and have been able to answer all of our questions.”
While the Science Laboratory Building served as the home for biology and chemistry research, academy students visited Old Union to learn more about information technology. Tucked away in a computer lab, a small group of technology-minded students collaborated to solve problems using Arduino code .
For his research project, Ethan Mikel, a junior at Normal Community High School, used Arduino code to measure a person’s heartbeat through their finger.
“I love to learn different programs and coding languages, so this academy has been great,” Mikel said.
William Hunter, outgoing director of CeMaST, said over 500 students have participated in the academy since it started in 2010. “We started ISRA to provide students with a vision of what they could experience at ISU, and the faculty and students have far surpassed our hopes.”
For more information about ISRA, visit the academy’s website.