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Cue the Crickets
by Lindsay Moran
An international collaboration among teen researchers goes chirpingly.
Students Cedrych Beh, Devin Bowers, Aliya Jamil, and Tse Yean Teo learn about each others' cultures while analyzing cricket song.
The bell signaling the period's end had rung five minutes earlier, but students in this morning biology class were still tightly huddled around lab tables. What could possibly keep teenagers so riveted that teachers need to shoo them out?
A dozen students at the Academy of Science (AOS)—an HHMI-supported effort at Dominion High School in Loudoun County, Virginia—were in deep consultation with 12 colleagues from the prestigious Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) in Singapore. These students, all 11th graders, had been collaborating for weeks via e-mail. For 10 days in early November, they finally had the chance to interact face to face.
This program is the brainchild of AOS director George Wolfe, a former Peace Corps volunteer who includes among his professed goals to produce “globally aware citizens.” Three years ago, Wolfe was invited to Singapore to train teachers. While there on a later visit, he suggested to Har Hui Peng, HCI's principal research consultant, that “our students collaborate like real scientists.” AOS requires that students undertake a two-year research project after their sophomore year. With the exchange program in place, those interested could apply to work with their counterparts at HCI.
Two students from each school teamed up to tackle one of six scientific ventures, which ranged from comparing the antibacterial properties of Western and Asian herbs to looking at a possible link between fish feminization and estrogen concentrations in waste water.
Devin Bowers, an AOS junior and avid guitarist, wanted to study something that involved acoustics. After consultation with Wolfe, he and classmate Aliya Jamil decided to investigate the evolutionary divergence of cricket song, on scales both local and—thanks to the involvement of Singapore students Cedrych Beh and Tse Yean Teo—global. The cricket song project also pulled in Gus Lott, a scientist at HHMI's nearby Janelia Farm Research Campus, who is interested in educational applications of software he developed that can be used to analyze insect sounds.
Photo: James Kegley