Tag Archive | "Science"

Ross School Students Test Exploration Challenge for National Geographic Kids

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Jeong Ho Ha, Harrison Rowen, Caio Garcia, Sunny Gou work on the National Geographic challenge at the Innovation Lab @Ross. Wil Weiss photo.

Ross School students Jeong Ho Ha, Harrison Rowen, Caio Garcia and Sunny Gou work on the National Geographic Kids Engineering Exploration Challenge at the Innovation Lab @Ross. Wil Weiss photo.

By Tessa Raebeck

Building a camera that can withstand a tiger’s attack, another that can be raised and lowered into a forest canopy and a wearable power system that can charge devices for explorers in the field, students at the Ross School recently tested three tasks for the National Geographic Kids Engineering Exploration Challenge.

For a week in February, students at the Innovation Lab @Ross, an academy within the school that seeks to develop entrepreneurship in science, mathematics, engineering, media and technology for advanced students, tackled real-world problems faced by explorers. The Ross students served as the official testers of the challenge for National Geographic, which publicly released the guidelines to the rest of the world in a launch March 6 in the April issue of National Geographic Kids magazine.

“Since they found out about the Innovation Lab and the sort of hands-on project-based stuff that we do, they got the idea that it would be good to have a school to sort of test these engineering challenges before they went live,” Dr. David Morgan, dean of science and director of the Innovation Lab, said.

“The education review has always been a key part of our process at National Geographic before we launch new programs,” Kathleen Schwille, vice president, education design and development of Education Programs at National Geographic, said in a statement. “We asked Ross School to participate in the assessment of this project because we recognize a great deal of synergy between our philosophies, which is specifically evident in programs like the Innovation Lab @Ross.”

Some 20 students in grades four, six and high school participated in the test challenge. The younger students are part of the Junior Innovation Lab, an after-school program for grades four through eight that is also academic and for which students receive grades.

“The challenge gives budding engineers worldwide the opportunity to try to solve some of the technical problems that National Geographic explorers face in the field every day,” a press release issued by the company stated.

The challenge had three different levels, so students could participate in their respective test based on their age and ability.

The first challenge, tested by the youngest students, asked them to design, build and test a camera that can withstand an attack from wild animals in the field. In “Eye in the Sky,” the second challenge, students created a system that can raise a camera at least 10 feet in the air and safely lower it back down. The third and most challenging of the tasks was “Wearable Power,” in which high school students were asked to design, build and test a wearable way to generate at least 1 watt of electricity without the help of an electrical outlet, to enable those in the field to charge their cameras, equipment and other devices.

For the most part, fourth grade students undertook the animal-proof camera challenge, sixth graders tested “Eye in the Sky” and high school students constructed wearable devices for generating power, although Dr. Morgan said there was some overlap.

“They were actually able to create working prototypes [in a] nice range of levels and projects and the students came up with some really, really interesting ideas,” he said.

In addition to testing the actual tasks of the challenge, Ross students explored different means of doing so. Some students completed the project in a “day-long hack-a-thon,” working straight through from noon until 5 p.m. from beginning to end, designing, building and testing all at once. Other groups completed their projects by working on them for an hour a day for five days.

“One of the things we try to do in Innovation Lab in general,” explained Dr. Morgan, “is to give students big blocks of time to work on something. And the students accomplished way more in that big block of time, where you don’t have to pack things up and put them away at the end of every class. You can really do the whole thing at once and not interrupt your train of thought, so it was actually really successful.”

In the challenge to develop a wearable power system that can generate electricity to charge devices in the field without using an outlet, one group of high school students at Ross made a device resembling an orthopedic knee brace. They outfitted it with an electric motor, so that every time the person wearing it flexes their knees, electricity is generated, effectively creating power just by walking. Another group used hand-cranked electric flashlights embedded in the heel of a shoe, to generate electricity every time the wearer steps down and their heel hits the ground.

Through its participation in the challenge, the school was able to test several different formats at once, seeing how students worked in small groups versus big groups, the hour of time versus the hack-a-thon, and how the different age groups related to the challenge. Feedback on both the challenges and the Ross experience was provided to National Geographic and that guidance was incorporated into the public challenge.

Students enjoyed the projects so much that many hope to also participate in the public, worldwide competition, Dr. Morgan said.

After entering their designs online, along with a short description, video and photographs, students in the actual competition are judged “not just on which one works the best, but they’ll be judged on their creativity and their perseverance and their imagination,” he said. “So it’s not just about who’s generating the most volts of electricity, it’s about who has approached the engineering process with the right mindset…the challenge isn’t so much about winning, as it is about getting students to be creative and use their imaginations.”

During the official launch event of the public challenge, Ross students were invited to Skype with the personnel at National Geographic, to share their feedback and solutions.

National Geographic’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet,” said Ms. Schwille in a statement, “and we firmly believe that today’s most pressing global issues will be solved by tomorrow’s engineers.”

Ross School in East Hampton Unveils New Marine Science Program

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Students from the Ross School working aboard a SoMAS research vessel.

Students from the Ross School working aboard a SoMAS research vessel.

By Tessa Raebeck

One scientist is looking at the medical applications of 3D printing technology, another is working on a Hydrogen-powered fuel cell and a third is developing an inexpensive way to have a prosthetic limb that responds to brain control. What do the three scientists have in common? They’re all in high school.

The projects are just some examples of independent research taking place in the Innovation Lab at the Ross School. Now in its second year, the program is adding marine science to its curriculum, which already includes diverse subjects like engineering, computer programming, woodworking, metalworking and welding.

“The Innovation Lab is a unique program that uses applied science and education to meet current problems of our society,” explained Paul Flagg, a teacher at Ross who was brought in to lead the marine science program. “So we are going to be working locally, regionally and globally in our efforts.”

In addition to the Ross School core curriculum, students in the Innovation Lab spend an extra hour at school each day working on their independent projects, which they choose and design themselves.

“The students are given a lot of latitude to select a project that they’re interested in,” Dr. David Morgan, the director of the lab, said. “What I tell students is if they’re not looking forward all day to when the Innovation Lab time comes around and they get to work on their project, then they probably chose the wrong project.”

“I really want the students all working on something they’re passionate about,” he added, “that is the kind of thing they would be doing anyway if they weren’t in school. Those are the kinds of students we’re looking for and the kinds of projects we try to steer them towards.”

Drawing on local resources and global ideas, the marine science program aims to broaden the Innovation Lab past engineering-type sciences to include life sciences and allows students to choose their focus from a large and diverse field.

“I think of the marine science program as more broadly than just fishing and plankton,” said Dr. Morgan. “It’s about global environmental issues. It’s about sustainability.”

“There’s room for students,” he added, “who are interested in genetics. There’s room there for students who are interested in resource management, fisheries, oceanography, computer modeling of global climate change…it’s a pretty big field.”

Flagg, who has an extensive background in fisheries and marine biology, designed the new program’s first course, “The Earth and its Oceans,” which is focused on physical oceanography and marine theology, currently in the fourth of 12 weeks.

Students are building a ROV (remote operated vehicle), “basically a robotic submarine,” said Dr. Morgan, and developing data collection packages to test the water for things like salinity and dissolved oxygen content.

In all projects, students are encouraged to look at problems in an interdisciplinary fashion.

Following the course, 22 students and five faculty members will travel to Mo’orea, a remote island in French Polynesia, for 20 days during the Ross School’s midwinter term.

In collaboration with National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute, they will conduct field research for a bio-code project at University of California at Berkeley’s Richard Gump Research Station.

“It’s an inventory of all life that exists” in Mo’orea, said Flagg. “We’re working on that inventory, including the genetic identity of each species, and so far the project has been going for five years and we’re coming to support it.”

Dr. Morgan said such trips are going to be an important part of the program.

“Getting students working not just in our local waters,” he said, “but getting them to experience environments that they might not otherwise get a chance to experience.”

Some students, he said, are conducting research on using the oceans to generate power through wave and tidal power generation or generating electricity from the temperature difference between the surface water and water 100 meters below.

“[We are] looking at the oceans as a source of energy and not just a place that we pull things out of to eat,” said Dr. Morgan, adding that the Ross School encourages students to think about global environmental impact in all their projects and “how this technology might be able to help mitigate things like environmental effects of human existence on this planet.”

The Ross School is offering three full tuition merit-based scholarships, including stipends and support for all four years, for marine science students from the local community.

Two scholarships have already been awarded to Evi Kaasik Saunders and Liam Cummings, but one is still available. To apply for the remaining scholarship, visit ross.org/apply or email admissions@ross.org.

“We feel committed,” Flagg said, “to supporting the community with research and students that are interested and would like to be involved in matters of local concern — such as the effects of sea-level change, effects of mismanagement of fisheries — so we think there’s a lot of opportunity for high-level participation and support of local resource management in the marine environment.”

Although students are doing work on a global scale, the program is committed to the local community.

“We feel that we’re part of a community that has a long relationship and dependence on the ocean for its survival,” said Flagg.

 

Local Kid Attends Program At Naval Academy

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Navy Kid

By Claire Walla

This year, roughly 4,800 high school students applied to the United States Naval Academy’s Summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Program. Of them, only 400 were accepted. And one of them is from Sag Harbor.

“I knew I wanted to apply half-way through seventh grade,” explained Sean Toole, who’s just finishing his freshman year at Pierson High School.

The week-long STEM program, which for Toole will run through this Saturday, June 16, is open to students from eighth through eleventh grade, and offers kids the chance to learn more about science programs at the academy while completing scientific projects of their own. According to a brochure for the program, topics covered will range from biometrics and cyber security to environmental challenges and automation.

Toole actually applied to the program for the first time as an eighth grader, but he wasn’t admitted.

“I was iffy about applying this year, because I don’t like rejection,” he continued. “But I wanted to go.”

“When I first got the letter that said ‘Congratulations,’ I dropped it,” explained Toole, a rather mild-mannered student. “I would have been jumping up and down, but that’s not me.”

In addition to a great interest in science — physics specifically — Toole said he also plans to attend the Naval Academy one day. In a sense, he explained, serving the country is part of his family’s legacy. The great nephew of the late John Ward, a former Sag Harbor mayor who served in World War II as a U.S. Army Tech Sargent — Toole’s family members have also served in the Navy and the Air Force.

But, he also said attending the program would expose him to math and science he’s “probably never seen before,” which will not only be to his benefit, but to the school district as a whole.

“I’ll get to bring information back that nobody else really knows about,” he added.

Innovation Lab to Immerse Students in Science

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DSCF7621 adjusted

By Claire Walla

The jobs of tomorrow might not be here today, but a new program at the Ross School is aiming to help high school students prepare for them.

That’s the concept behind the school’s new science academy, Innovation Lab @Ross, which was announced this month and is now accepting applications for the coming academic year.

According to David Morgan, who is returning to Ross after 10 years teaching undergraduate science courses at The New School, the program is being developed for those students who have already demonstrated an early passion for scientific innovation. Primary fields of study will include mathematics, engineering, media and technology; though within those realms Morgan said instruction and lab work will ultimately be attuned to students’ particular interests.

“The idea is that students will come with an interest in one of these fields,” he said. They might not be absolutely sure precisely what they want to pursue, he added, “but they’ve identified that this [path] is what they want.”

Ross has also announced a scholarship for local students hoping to be part of the Innovation Lab.  The deadline for the award is Tuesday, June 12, and information can be found at www.ross.org/scholarship.

Like the Ross tennis academy, the innovation lab students will take the same core courses as students in the regular school for the first half of the day. During the second half of the day, however, instead of playing tennis, students in the Innovation Lab will have hours to devote to science, focusing on “in-depth projects, independent research and labs that are two- to three-hour blocks,” Morgan explained.

“There’s a huge desire in today’s world for students to be connected to these fields,” added Patty Lein, Ross’ Director of Academics and Professional Development (also former chair of the science department). “A lot of professors are jazzed about the idea of bringing that innovative thinking into Ross; these students will be leaders in the field at some point.”

Morgan further impressed that the Innovation Lab would not only foster an environment where scientific exploration would be supported, it would give students a certain business sense, teaching them how to bring their ideas into the marketplace. The idea is for students to learn how to write grants, and even apply for science grants during their time at Ross.

“What we need to do is give students the skills to do independent research and be able to work with a mentor,” Morgan explained.

The Innovation Lab will tap into a list of well-established science researchers who will be available to consult with students throughout their time at Ross. These mentors include professors Morgan himself already has working relationships with, as well as professors from around the world.

These resources include mathematics professor Dr. Ralph Abraham of the University of California — Santa Cruz; professor of neuroscience Dr. Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California; Dr. Kurt W. Fischer of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, mathematics professor Dr. Victor Katz of the University of the District of Columbia; and researcher Dr. Hideaki Koizumi of Tokyo, Japan, among others.

Of course, local scientists, like famed environmentalist Carl Safina, have agreed to participate on a consulting basis as well.

Ross is currently accepting ninth and tenth grade applicants ($49,850 base fee for day students, $66,150 for boarding students) with what both Morgan and Lein referred to as a demonstrated passion for science.

“The most important thing is an indication that the student is passionate and curious about something,” Morgan said. Although a track record of high achievement and good test scores will be considered as well, Morgan emphasized, “We want students whose eyes light up when they find out that they’ll get to spend part of their day with free time [to research, or conduct lab work].”

Morgan said the focus of the program is still evolving, and will continue to morph based on students’ interests. However, he anticipates putting a lot of energy into robotics and engineering, as well as 3D design and fabrication. (The school will be purchasing a 3D printer and scanner, which will allow students to create a digital prototype of a part — a robot claw, for instance — and the “printer” will essentially create it.)

“It’s a pioneering program,” Lein continued. “We want the voice of the first student body to help design the program’s next steps.”

Morgan agreed, adding that he’s excited to see how the program evolves over time.

“My greatest hope is that three years from now there will be students doing what I can’t even imagine now,” he stated. “My job is to make sure I can make that possible.”

Student Has Eye on Science Prize

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Pierson High School’s Andrew Mitchell has been named a semifinalist for the Intel science competition — a national competition that gives scholarships and other prizes for high school seniors who excel in many different areas of science.

“I really enjoy science and chemistry,” said the Pierson senior who joined in the research at the school last year and has been working with fungus and molds.

Mitchell’s work is a continuation of research that began about five years ago in Pierson’s chemistry lab under the direction of Dr. Robert Schumacher, the high school chemistry teacher.

“We find out what compounds the fungus produces that have medicinal properties,” explained Dr. Schumacher. “Andrew’s research provided two new members of the scoriosins and provided more material for further biological evaluation.”

In 2005, it was then-Pierson senior Ailish Bateman who first made it into the list of top 40 Intel finalists for the fungus project. Schumacher said that she submitted only one structure and more data was required to prove the structure.

In 2008, senior Josephine Thiele isolated six new scoriosin type antibiotics and was an Intel semifinalist. Mitchell has subsequently isolated two new members of the scoriosin family of antibiotics and synthesized them to prove the structure and provide more material for biological testing.

All the projects together provided the necessary data to publish the work in a scientific journal. 

“This further proved Ailish and Josie’s structures and provided new data about the mode of activity,” Dr. Schumacher said of Mitchell’s work.

The paper will be published later this year in collaboration with Dartmouth College and the University of Mississippi and with all three students as co-authors.

All across the U.S., hopeful students wait for the response from the organizers of the Intel competition — from late November when students submit applications to mid-January, when the semifinalists are announced. Last Wednesday, Mitchell learned that he was an Intel semifinalist.

“I had to write five 300-word essays, and include it with my resume in a pack,” Mitchell said. He also submitted his 13-page research report. “They take your SAT scores and information from the guidance department too.”

Mitchell is one of 300 Intel semifinalists named from 1,698 applicants around the country. He has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship for being named a semifinalist, and Pierson High School will also receive an equal amount. Next Wednesday, 40 finalists will be announced and if Mitchell is included in that list, he will receive another $5,000, a lap top computer and a trip to the White House where he will have one on one time with the scientists who will determine his overall knowledge of the research. The top Intel prize is a $100,000 college scholarship.

 “I am really proud of the science program and the hard work the teachers have put in,” said Pierson vice principal Gary Kalish.

“Our science department is very strong, and I would like to particularly recognize Dr. Schumacher for the mentoring of Andrew,” added Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “If there is any further way the school can help them – we will.”

Dr. Schumacher noted that Pierson has been the only high school on the East End in the last five years to have semifinalists in the 67-year-old science competition. According to Dr. Schumacher, the organizers of the competition require a lot of personal information about the student’s history, grades and other achievements.

For his part, Mitchell is hopeful that this research will help him increase his chances of getting into Dartmouth College.

“I would like to pursue this research after high school,” Mitchell said, “I loved the whole idea of the project.”

“I would like to thank Dr. Robert Schumacher for his constant guidance and positive reinforcement,” wrote Mitchell in his research report. “I thank him the most for never giving me a direct answer and always making me find the answer myself.”