April 4, 2018

Students Explore World of Science With Summer Research Internships

DOING REAL SCIENCE: The seven students in PDS’s new REx science research experience program have all been accepted into summer internships at some of the top university science labs in the country. From left, the students are Angela Talusan, Jacob Tharayil, Walter Emann, Lydia Wu, Eleanor Myers, Raina Kasera, and Elsie Wang, with their teacher Carrie Norin.

By Donald Gilpin

Researching climate change pressure on marine ecosystems, or lung function in 9/11 first responders, or protein design and antibiotic resistance, or memory and learning and Alzheimer’s disease, or liver cancer and cancer immunotherapy in the setting of some of the top university science laboratories in the country do not sound like typical high school science class experiences.

They’re not, but they are among the internship experiences that the seven Princeton Day School (PDS) juniors in Carrie Norin’s new REx Program are looking forward to this summer.

Noting that her science research experience program in its first year at PDS is probably more like graduate school than high school, Norin recently announced that all of her current REx students have been accepted into internships for this coming summer at university labs across the country.

“I’m a big proponent of doing real science in science classes,” Norin said. In her sixth year as a biology teacher at PDS, Norin, who holds a PhD in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University, started feeling strongly a few years ago about going beyond the traditional high school science classroom and starting a research program at PDS. ”The goal was to provide a genuine science experience. I wanted pure inquiry to drive this program, as in real labs where science is being done.”

Norin’s student-driven research course is designed to bring students to an understanding of the scientific method. They explore what science really is and who funds it. Early in the course they read scientific papers, exploring the internet to get to the point where they are able to understand scientific writing and figure out a topic that they are excited about.

They review the scientific literature on their chosen subjects and they develop a list of scientists with whom they would like to work. They design experiments around a question related to their topic of interest and the particular lab they want to work in. Over the past months they have been communicating with scientists in arranging the internships that will allow them to pursue their chosen subjects of interest.

Walter Emann will be doing an internship on plant-insect interactions and phenotypic plasticity at the University of North Carolina. Raina Kasera will be in Duke University’s Chemistry Department exploring catalysts for biological molecules. Eleanor Myers will be working in the Marine & Coastal Sciences Department at the Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory at Rutgers University investigating climate change pressure on marine ecosystems.

Angela Talusan will be at the NYU Langone Health Department of Environmental Medicine examining lung function in 9/11 first responders. Jacob Tharayil will be in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department at the University of California, San Francisco working on protein design and antibiotic resistance.

Elsie Wang will do her internship in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, investigating memory and learning in mice and Alzheimer’s disease. Lydia Wu will be researching liver cancer and cancer immunotherapy at the Pathology Department of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins University.

When they return to school as seniors next fall, the seven students will present their research to the PDS community at a public event. They will also become mentors for Norin’s new class of researchers.