Bright-eyed, budding young scientists and researchers got the rare opportunity to present amateur scientific research to a professional audience when Georgetown played host to the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Jan. 9 to 10.
Held at the Georgetown University Medical Center, the annual event brings together high school students across the region to present independent research and attend lectures from leading researchers, including those representing the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Army Research Laboratory.
“This event allows Georgetown to exemplify our commitment to excellence and scholarship and supports our area high school teachers’ efforts to groom future science scholars,” Program Director Joy Williams said.
Now in its 52nd year, the Symposium was the brainchild of Fr. Francis Heyden, S.J., a professor of astronomy and director of the university observatory, who pioneered research in solar eclipses during his time on campus.
“The goal of JSHS is to encourage high school students to prepare for careers in science and research and introduce them to people who are creating new knowledge and love what they are doing,” Williams said.
Extending an invitation to all high schools in the D.C. region, this year’s symposium was attended by 130 students from 26 local schools.
“The tours, seminars and keynote speeches were fascinating and inspirational. The presentations allowed students to be exposed to a variety of different topics and excited us about science,” winner of this year’s $2,000 scholarship Kristi Kan, said.
In April, Kan, a 12th grade student at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Md., will bring her research project on “The Effects of LED Light Exposure on Strawberry Quality in a Simulated Retail Setting” to the national level of the symposium in D.C., where she will compete for up to $12,000 in undergraduate scholarships. For Kan, however, the regional win has been enough to buoy her interests in food science and nutrition.
“Winning this competition and advancing to the nationals gave me confidence to pursue the sciences further,” Kan said. “Last year in my physics and chemistry classes, I was one of the few girls, and that was a bit intimidating. But winning the Greater Washington JSHS really encouraged me to pursue STEM research further.”
The collaborative nature of the symposium not only gives students an opportunity to interact with leaders in the scientific field, but provides a platform for students to engage professionals in stimulating discussion on some of the largest challenges facing the scientific community.
“It is exciting to bring together students from across the metropolitan area and to encourage their interaction,” Williams said. “The scientists and professors are often inspired by the students’ enthusiasm and encouraged by their commitment which assures some of the unrelenting challenges of today may have solutions tomorrow.”
According to former program director Douglas Eagles, by targeting talented youth, the JSHS has been able to instill a spirit of curiosity and creativity in promising young minds.
“The beauty of this competition and the entire event lies in the innocence of scientific discovery and in catching these kids while they are still curious,” Eagles said.
Beyond intellectual curiosity, participants have the opportunity to be awarded financial scholarships for their showcased research.
“The opportunity for students to submit research projects in competition for the regional scholarships has provided an incentive to area teachers to encourage their students to expend the time and effort required to develop a worthy project,” Williams said. “Seeing and hearing their peers’ presentations has encouraged students to seek research opportunities they might not have considered.”
The competition also provides opportunities for participants to network with peers and professionals alike, with many participants going on to intern for scientific organizations.
“I also met other talented high school students who did amazing research, and I look forward to keeping in touch with them,” Kan said.
For Williams, the competition has provided an invaluable opportunity for GUMC faculty members and scientifically engaged youth to interact.
“My involvement in this program has been immensely rewarding because it keeps me in touch with the excellent science that is being done on this campus and allows me to connect the broader community to our extraordinary faculty,” Williams added.