Independent Research at Summer STARS – by Jane Kelly

Summer STARS has officially transitioned from course-like material to independent research, and the youth are doing really well with it!

Our last week of content-oriented days went quickly, and we started talking about the grant proposals the Summer STARS are expected to write in the remaining weeks. 

The first week of research was fairly chaotic- another CASE program (with 100 middle and high school girls!) was in the building to participate in the Amgen Biotech Experience, and the youth from Summer STARS had the opportunity to participate in a few of their activities. We also introduced an online coding course from Codecademy for the youth to complete self-paced lessons. My co-instructor, Stephanie, and I held daily check-ins with the youth to keep updated on their progress on their grant proposals and coding course completion. So far everyone is off to a great start. 

Ibrahim, going into his senior year of high school, was inspired by learning about Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. This moon is one of the most likely candidates for life in our solar system, with scientists believing it may have vast oceans with an average depth almost three times the average ocean depth on Earth. Ibrahim’s independent research will result in him writing a grant proposal to send a probe out to Enceladus to further investigate the moon for the ingredients of life.

Another student, Chidera, is writing her proposal on exploration even further out in our solar system- the search for a ninth planet. Astronomers have predicted, based on the orbits of the planets and other objects in our solar system, that a ninth planet, a super-Earth, is tugging on everything. Its gravity is altering the movement of everything just enough to be noticeable in our calculations, and Chidera is planning a mission to send a horde of CubeSats to observe the planet itself. 

Though the coding and biotech activities helped to distribute the work in smaller pockets of focus with more exciting activities throughout, by the end of the day most of the youth were still wanting to test their knowledge in other ways. That’s how we discovered a new favorite activity- we’ve been playing a trivia game where players are photons that have to answer questions correctly to escape from the sun. The game has brought massive frustration, but also a lot of laughs at the end of a long day of independent research.

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