The Bogle Science Center’s integrated science research laboratory has been a busy place this fall as eight juniors began to implement research projects of their own design. The inquisitive and highly motivated students make up Blair’s first integrated science research (ISR) class, and under the guidance of science department chair Kelly Hadden, they are attempting to answer research questions sparked by their interests and replete with real-world implications.
Building Up to Experiments
It has taken nearly a year for ISR students to reach the point of actually beginning their experiments, but they have learned a great deal along the way—especially the fact that “it takes time to do science right,” according to Mrs. Hadden. The journey began last spring in “Foundations of ISR,” a semester-long elective that introduced students to the world of scientific research, immersed them in scientific literature and gave them the opportunity to investigate a topic or question of their own choosing. Having developed and successfully presented their research proposals—on everything from using MAP gels to create an enhanced-healing cast for animals to working with non-Newtonian fluids to optimize protection in Kevlar-type vests—class members dove into their projects over the summer by contacting scientists working in their areas of interest.
“Students identified potential ‘mentors’ through journal articles and other primary resources,” Mrs. Hadden explained. “They compiled questions, and, together, we conducted conference calls with professionals all over the world. Students have received a remarkable amount of information as a result, as scientists have shared research experience, specific guidance on methods and data that kids never would have gleaned from reading the literature alone.”
Daniel Dai ’21, whose project addresses the primary peanut proteins responsible for the legume’s allergenicity—an experiment inspired by his brothers’ allergies—contacted several possible mentors in hope of understanding how proteins function and how enzymes and reducing agents interact with them. His conversation with University of California-Merced biochemistry professor Dr. Henry Foreman helped him choose an efficient reducing agent for his experiment, while his call with Michigan State University professor Dr. Sarah Comstock gave him insight into how to best formulate his project and procedure.
Mrs. Hadden is grateful for professional scientists’ receptiveness and willingness to help ISR students and pleased that the calls have demonstrated how supportive the scientific community can be. “Students are learning that real-world science should be a collaborative effort, and that’s what we’re emulating in ISR,” she said.
Getting Down to Business
The novice researchers gained even more real-world experience when they delved into the business side of science during the first part of the fall semester. As they compiled supply lists, researched instrumentation and priced out equipment for their very different projects, they realized that in order for the class to stay within budget, they would have to think creatively. With further research, they determined that they could share or rent equipment, visit off-campus facilities to access specific technology or take different approaches that utilize in-house equipment and still perform valid experiments.
When supplies began arriving on campus, the benefits of working in the Bogle Science Center’s brand-new ISR lab hit home. Students each have their own storage space and a dedicated lab bench. And, having been designed for maximum flexibility, the lab can accommodate biological experiments, engineering projects and everything in-between, all at the same time.
“The ISR lab was designed for exactly the work we’re doing here, and I’m excited for students as they start grappling with their experiments, troubleshooting and getting their hands dirty,” Mrs. Hadden said. “There’s plenty of space in the lab—it’s as if each student owns a piece of the building.”
Lucy Clayton ’21 echoed Mrs. Hadden’s enthusiasm for the ISR lab, describing the space as neat, clean and accessible. “The atmosphere of the renovated Bogle Science Center is invigorating—the air seems newer,” reflected the junior, who is studying the effect of different dyes on the efficiency of a solar cell made out of concrete. “The Bogle Science Center’s aesthetic matches the core qualities of science,” she continued. “It is open and flows nicely like the different fields of science. Its newness blends seamlessly into the old red brick, which matches the idea that science takes old ideas and turns them into innovations. I am really excited to work in the Bogle Science Center this year and see what new ideas we can come up with in the new space.”
Doing Actual Science
ISR is unlike most Blair courses in that there are no textbooks, written tests or traditional graded assignments. Instead, throughout the fall semester, students were required to provide various deliverables, including completed calls with professional scientists, a materials list and an initial data set. For their first signature assessment, they turned in project updates and next steps, and in the weeks before Thanksgiving and winter breaks, they worked on plans to keep their experiments going during the extended time away from campus, especially if they involve living cells or organisms.
Daniel aimed to create a few SDS PAGE gels before Thanksgiving to prepare for practice electrophoresis. “The purified proteins I will use in my experiment are relatively expensive, so Mrs. Hadden and I ordered less-expensive proteins that I can use to test my procedure and make revisions,” he explained. As he gets deeper into his experiment, he is especially enjoying the freedom ISR has afforded him to research a topic that is important to him. “I am so grateful to the Blair science department for this wonderful opportunity, and I can’t wait to see how my experiment turns out!”
Meanwhile, Lucy’s pre-Thanksgiving plan included creating the semiconductor or the photoanode as the first step of her project. “I made little concrete disks that have a certain blending of material in the mixture to enhance the conductivity of the concrete,” she said. “These are the bases of my project, and the other parts of the solar cell will be added around the concrete.”
For Lucy, the best part of ISR is the fact that she is applying the ideas she has learned in class to challenging, real-life lab work. “ISR isn’t just reading from a textbook and doing a prearranged lab with known results,” she said. “We are doing actual science, and the likelihood that our experiments will not be successful is extremely high. It makes science seem more real and concrete.”
Mrs. Hadden will continue to support her ISR students as the year progresses, guiding them to sources of information, helping them communicate effectively and asking questions they might not have considered. “I’m really looking forward to all the growth that will happen as students experience the realities of science and get results in the lab,” she said. “It’s an honor for me to work with students who share a passion for science—I love teaching this class.”