Every year, some of the nation's leading high school and undergraduate scientists come to Prince William County to participate in George Mason University's Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP). The program allows high school students to work alongside professors, graduate students and private sector researchers to advance their knowledge and understanding of a variety of scientific disciplines.
"This program showcases the type of intellectual inquiry we inspire in our young people," said Corey Stewart, Chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. "It is a great opportunity for them to discover how communities such as ours are working internationally to apply science to everyday challenges."
The program, sponsored by George Mason University and a number of corporate and individual donors, is aimed at giving budding scientists the chance to get hands-on experience with scientific research, said Amy VanMeter, a research specialist at the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University.
"The mission of the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program is to give high school and undergraduate students real-world, hands-on research experiences. The students are paired with a mentor at George Mason University or at a collaborating institution to solve important science, technology, engineering or math problems," said VanMeter, who is also the director of ASSIP.
The 85 program participants, representing 26 states and 42 high schools and universities, recently filled the stage of Merchant Hall at the Hylton Performing Arts Center displaying the results of their research and answering questions regarding their findings.
Rob Cressman, a physics professor at George Mason University, went to the exhibit to see the ASSIP students' results. Cressman had the students defend their research and said defending their work was part-and-parcel of what the students should expect if they enter science fields. "They're supposed to get the experience of research and part of the experience is having people give you a hard time about your work."
Cressman went on to say that the students he talked to did a good job. "The research is really good. These students only have about a month to do this work, and it's really impressive what they've been able to get done in that amount of time."
Nancy Trang, a Patriot High School graduate who is on her way to Howard University in Washington, D.C., said she was happy to have been in the program. "I really liked being able to do actual research. It was really great to apply what we learned in the various classes in high school – not just science classes, but engineering classes and math classes – and see how it all fits together and see how scientists work in the real world. "
Trang's project, titled Fast Movement Tracking Using Stereo Cameras, showed how motion could be tracked to learn about movement and improve muscle memory.
Kelechi Nwanevu, a Forest Park High School rising senior, who attends the Governor's School at Innovation Park at George Mason University, focused on defining "healthy individuals" by the fatty acids in their system through non-invasive methods.
Nwanedu echoed Trang in his feelings about being part of ASSIP. "We got to work hands-on, on ongoing research at George Mason University. I found myself very thankful that the heads of the lab and PhD students and Master students would actually let high school students and undergraduates get their hands dirty in the lab instead of sitting and watching... It was much harder than I expected it to be because I expected it to be more of watch-and-learn type of thing, but I got a lot of experience."
Ruben Magni, a research affiliate at the Center for Applied Proteomics at George Mason University, said the students did some solid research. "It's not something you would find on the internet or some blog. It's really based on data that young researchers were able to obtain using very complex techniques."
Visit the ASSIP webpage for a complete list of the participating students.
Sponsors of the program included: Prince William County Department of Economic Development, Thermo Fisher Scientific, 4-VA, Novant Health Foundation, U.S. Game and Inland Fisheries, Corning, ATCC, Micron Foundation, Beckman Coulter, Eppendorf, Dako and individual donors.