Advanced Science Research grants scientific freedom and flexibility

Semester I presentations took place Dec. 6 in Driscoll Commons

Similar to a choose your own adventure novel, students in the Advanced Science Research class can choose any path they want through a year long science lab. Mussels, bird migration, contaminated roof runoff, and plasma were just a few of the topics that students chose to investigate in their personal scientific explorations.

On Dec. 6 student presenters shared their projects and results with an audience of parents, science teachers, and other interested parties in Driscoll Commons.

The ASR class was started in 2012 and has offered opportunities to passionate students ever since.

“I’ve always been interested in science. [ASR] has been a way to draw from that,” junior Emma Hills said.

Hills researched the effects of urbanization on migratory birds to see if some birds were more affected by increased urbanization than others. While the results of the lab may be useful, students definitely gain valuable skills for possible future scientific endeavors.

[The class let me] develop my own research ideas, work independently. I had free reign over everything.”

— Junior Emma Hills

“[The class let me] develop my own research ideas, work independently. I had free reign over everything,” Hills said.

Frequently ASR students create their own projects and work independently of one another. This year marked the first time that three experiments were related.Those three students organized their labs in relation to one another and collaborated throughout the process while still doing independent research. Seniors Diane Huang, Jack Indritz, and Mari Knudson each studied different aspects of roof water runoff and the contamination it might contain.

Indritz completed a lab study where he aimed to find the worst possible contamination levels that asphalt shingles could produce. Huang conducted a field study where she collected the runoff from the houses of SPA community members in St. Paul. Knudson did research on plants that phytoremediate, or absorb contaminants from groundwater.

The other projects were as varied and unique as each students interests were. 

Juniors Iya Abdulkarim and Henry Zietlow both studied behaviors of sea creatures. Abdulkarim was interested in zebrafish learning patterns and whether they were more likely to pay attention to novel or familiar objects. Zietlow investigated whether the presence of ammonia in water could affect the burrowing patterns of mussels.

My largest goal is to get into a lab at the U of M so I can do something that’s closer to what I’d be doing in college or after that.”

— Junior Ben Mellin

“The mussels grew in a lab and they came to me in a Fedex truck, so that was convenient,” Zietlow said during the presentation.

Junior Ben Mellin created his own polymers in the lab then tested their flexural strength. Mellin then built his measurement contraption out of legos and used small amounts of sand as the weights to test the strength of the polymers.

“I think I learned to be persistent through lots of failure in addition to trial and error. Science is hard to execute, nothing goes as planned,” Mellin said.

Because ASR is a semester long class some students had compiled results from their labs this past year while others, in the midst of data collection, will give a more thorough presentation in the spring.

Seniors Sara Bohjanen, Ian Scott, and Sarah Wheaton are all completing investigations at the University of Minnesota. Under the guidance of both US Science teacher Beth Seibel-Hunt and U of M scientists they each created a unique lab.

Bohjanen is researching chitin and pathogens. Scott is working on the synthesis of nanoparticles with Plasma Liquid Interface. Wheaton is exploring gender stereotypes using eye tracking technology. Each of these students will present a lab presentation in the spring.

“I expect I’ll have data just before I go to college,” Bohjanen said. She thinks her project will go longer than some of the other ASR labs.

ASR is an opportunity for scientifically inclined students to take full agency in an experiment of their choosing. It’s a class that shows true versatility and independence. Whether it be mussels or polymers with flexural strength, anything can be investigated scientifically.

This story was selected for BEST OF SNO News.