Thirty-five sophomores from each lunch period were sent e-mail invitations on Wednesday, October 21, to participate in engineering research groups that will meet during the students’ free or lunch periods. The e-mails were sent by Assistant Principal Chemistry and Physics Scott Thomas. He selected the students by asking the program office for a list of sophomores with each lunch period free who had grade point averages of over 95.
The main goal of this program is to teach sophomores skills to do research projects on their own by starting early in groups of two to four. Groups will be formed based on the students’ common interests, whether it is in biology, chemistry, physics, or a combination.
Although Thomas e-mailed only 175 students, all sophomore homeroom teachers will soon be notified to announce the program to their homeroom students. “If a student really wants to get the work done, then he or she can take part,” Biology teacher and research coordinator Jonathan Gastel said. “We hope we can accommodate all sophomores that want to do it. The main criteria is determination.”
Thomas is currently working on being able to give students academic credits for participating, but if that is not possible, he can “at least give independent study credit,” Thomas said. Last year, there was one research group that met during seventh period. This year, Gastel had an idea to branch out as “a way of getting sophomores more involved in the program [Intel] earlier,” Thomas said.
“We will have mentors like qualified parents, Stuyvesant alumni, and outside researchers,” Thomas said. “The point is to start off in sophomore year, get acquainted with research skills, and then do Intel junior and senior year, like what people do in other schools.” One of these schools is the Bronx High School of Science, which had nine Intel semifinalists in the 2008-2009 school year, compared to Stuyvesant’s 10.
Thomas’s goal for this semester is to have the engineering research groups submit to the Toshiba Explorer Vision competition at the end of January. Contests that are planned for next year include Siemen’s and the New York Science and Engineering Fair (NYSEF). If students are successful at the NYSEF, they could advance to the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Nevada. Last year, April Lee (’09) won second place at the ISEF.
In addition, Dr. Gastel is organizing another sophomore research project that will begin next term. For the first time, sophomores will be able to register for Intel research classes for their spring term through the Student Tools link on the Stuyvesant Web site. Sophomores will be mixed with juniors who are also taking Intel. Possible project fields for the classes include biology, chemistry, physics and psychology. Dr. Gastel will be teaching the class along with other teachers who have not yet been decided on. In addition, room 802 will be made into a workspace specifically for students doing research. A larger table will be installed in the room, as well as a new computer and printer.
These new programs will not affect Stuyvesant’s budget, as all equipment will be provided by grants. This is the fourth year that the Toshiba American Foundation has given Stuyvesant a grant for science equipment. This year, Toshiba donated 15,000 dollars to purchase a nanoscan microscope, which is a high-resolution magnetic and atomic force microscope. Over the past three years, Toshiba has provided 60,000 dollars to purchase a 3-D printer, a high speed data collector, and plasma physics tools. Also last year, the Parents’ Association gave 45,000 dollars for a scanning electron microscope, and the Alumni Association gave 9,000 dollars for a glass tube furnace. Scanning electron microscopes allow viewers to examine, in a three-dimensional screen image, the surface structure of prepared specimens. Glass tube furnaces conduct syntheses and purifications of inorganic compounds and also make super conductors.
“It has been very interesting so far. We used an electron microscope to examine cells,” said sophomore Elizabeth Matsumura, who recently joined Thomas’s program but has not started working on a project yet. “[I joined because] it seemed intriguing. I wanted experience working in a lab setting.”
Students generally had positive responses to these new programs.
“This is a preferable thing. I can’t guarantee that the sophomores will love what Intel’s all about and that’s exactly why they should start early, so they’re not scrambling like the kids in my year,” said senior Kristi Truong, who did a psychology Intel project last year. “Intel is a lot of work and not everyone is cut out for it, so starting early would be great.”
Sophomore Meisze Yau agreed. “Having a sophomore Intel class is definitely an improvement because junior year is stressful enough already, and you can take some of that stress off by starting sophomore year,” said Yau, who recently joined the fourth period research group and is considering taking the Intel class. “You could probably get a lot more out of the project, too.”
Some students, however, expressed concerns that the sophomores would not be able to handle a demanding research project. “Sophomore year is too early to start Intel, unless the sophomores are accelerated in science, meaning they’ve taken three years of high school science beforehand,” junior Jensen Cheong said.