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High school senior Peter Sylvers is happily surprised by what he's been able to take on during his internship on the NIH campus.
Puente asks a question of postdoc Meng-shin Shiao, who puts a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Logan comes over and jokes about his next failure. It's a normal scene in a normal lab—scientists taking a break to encourage each other when the stress starts to mount.
The difference: Puente and Logan are high school students.
In just seven weeks at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, the teenagers have become an integral part of the lab team. Braun, who recently joined Jackson Lab as associate director and chair of research, is hosting high school students for the first time. He is surprised at how much valuable science Logan and Puente have done, going beyond his carefully outlined plan for their summer. “These students have really galvanized my lab, and the lab has embraced them,” he says.
The pair has conquered projects that moved the lab's work forward, and they've brought unexpected enthusiasm. The students occasionally break into song—Braun prefers The Sound of Music, but their range includes classic Disney and Hannah Montana. And they have bonded with other lab members, joining excursions to the opera or picking strawberries.
The Jackson Lab's summer student program is the granddaddy of training grounds. The 60-year-old program has hosted hundreds of high school students from across the country—including Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore. But until recent years, most motivated students had to go door to door to find a scientist willing to take them in.
Now research universities, school districts, and nonprofit groups are creating programs to connect students with labs. Some programs aim to support students with classes in lab skills before they enter a lab or with weekly meetings to train them on presentation skills. Others want to get students into the lab as quickly as possible. A number of programs focus on recruiting underrepresented students into science early. All aim to put more top students on the path to becoming scientists.
Students hear about the growing number of organized research opportunities from teachers, fellow students, or, like Puente, from Google. Those who make the effort to line up work in a lab “are the students we see who are just so excited about research,” says Elizabeth Marincola, president of the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public, which owns and administers the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and Intel Science Talent Search, the highly competitive, application-only science competition.
Photo: Andrea Widener