Advanced Math/Science Research Update
by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program
January 15, 2013
Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students. AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.
The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope. This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years. The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus.
One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14. Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.
Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!
AMSR News: Five Submit to INTEL
Just prior to Thanksgiving break, several students from Berkshire School’s Advanced Math/Science Research program submitted applications to the INTEL Science Talent Search (STS), the nation’s most prestigious science competition exclusively for high school students who have conducted independent research. The competitive application consists of several essays on the student’s personal experiences, scientific goals, and a full-length research paper detailing the work they performed. Every year, roughly 2000 applications are reviewed by a panel of nationally-recognized scientific experts and a few hundred are selected as INTEL STS Semifinalists. One winner is announced each May. Berkshire School has had four INTEL STS Semifinalists since 2010. A brief description of research projects from this year’s INTEL STS entrants is given below.
Liza Bernstein: Neuronal damage that occurs during chronic infection may result in pain and a diminished quality of life. Liza’s research project focused on understanding neurological changes that occur during HIV infection. Liza used microscopic techniques to analyze changes in neuron number and length in tissues derived from virus-infected animals. She found that virus infection decreases the number of innervations and demonstrated that the animal model she used was a useful system to study such questions.
Sam Cabot: A mystery arose when Chandra space telescope observations did not detect the normally strong interstellar Oxygen absorption line along the sight line of Cyg X-2, a neutron star binary. Sam's research comprised of searching for the line and reasons for its disappearance, using XMM-Newton observations. Such reasons could potentially alter our understanding of Low Mass X-ray Binaries, and the fidelity of using them for absorption line spectroscopy.
Hung Hoang: All of the cells in our bodies have an organelle called the mitochondria which provides most of the energy our cells need for proper function. Mitochondrial damage is common among cancerous cells. Hung used a genetic selection technique to analyze yeast cells expressing a pro-cancer gene for mitochondrial damage. He correlated the severity of mitochondrial damage with the yeast cell genotype and found that yeast that were impaired in the DNA damage response pathway were more susceptible.
Swetha Kodali: Everyone knows that our immune systems are essential for keep us healthy and subtleties of an immune response influence how we combat an infection. However, erratic immune responses can cause serious problems (i.e. chronic inflammation or anaphylaxis). Swetha’s work focused on understanding the molecular details of the immune response to Erlichia, a bacterium that is transmitted by the bite of a lone-star tick. She analyzed genes involved in immune response after infection and compared the levels of those genes to control genes using real-time quantitative PCR. Her work showed that immune responses to Erlichia are similar to other tick-borne illnesses.
Sissi Wang: Sunspots are visible indicators of solar activity; the sunspot number reflects trends in this activity in the sun. Sissi used a mathematical method (Fourier Transform) to analyze annual average sunspot number data from different sources to account for possible variations from the commonly known 11-year sunspot cycle. She then designed a computer program using Python in order to develop a more efficient way to obtain sunspot number data (from solar white-light images). Her results showed promise in generating a sufficiently accurate, independent source of data.
Click here to learn more about the Advanced Math/Science Research program at Berkshire.
Click here to learn more about Berkshire's INTEL Semifinalists.