Faculty across LAS work with Science Bound students

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Students stand around a table filled with sand and a stream of water.
In one of the many programs where LAS faculty are working with science bound students over the summer, Sven Morgan and graduate students in geological and atmospheric sciences used a stream table to teach students in the Early Outreach Program how streams erode land.

As classes slow with summer schedules, research often picks up—but teaching always continues. Many faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) are excited this summer to work on research projects with students in Science Bound.

Science Bound is a program started by Iowa State University to empower Iowa students of color to pursue degrees and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The program works with middle and high school students from Des Moines, Denison and Marshalltown.

Students are invited to participate during the end of their seventh-grade year. Throughout the program they participate in regular meetings with teachers and visits to the Iowa State campus as well as summer academic programs, overnight retreats and other activities that expose students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and engage them with STEM experiences. Students who successfully complete the high school program, meet admission requirements to Iowa State University and pursue a technical degree at Iowa State receive a full tuition scholarship from the university.

Several departments and faculty in the LAS college will be hosting Science Bound students and introducing them to various STEM research areas and concepts over the course of the summer.

Young Engineers and Scientists program

Each summer, the Young Engineers and Scientists (YES) program at Iowa State works with Science Bound students. YES is a six-week paid internship where students work with a faculty mentor on research in STEM disciplines at Iowa State. YES also holds seminars for the students to focus on their academic and professional development.

Amanda Weinstein, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and Emily Smith, professor of chemistry, are among the faculty mentors working with YES this summer.

Smith will work with a student to use light to investigate properties of different types of samples. They will focus on the effects of temperature on chemicals that have intriguing but poorly understood properties. The Science Bound students bring a fresh perspective and excitement to the lab.

“Most of the students are very enthusiastic about working in the lab, and it is quite a unique opportunity for them to learn more about careers in science and research,” she said. “Some students are nervous at first about working in the lab, but once they realize that they can apply the things they learned in their science courses, and more generally that they can do the assigned tasks, you can see their confidence increase.”

Weinstein will work with a student on an astrophysics project that involves computer analysis of astrophysical data. She develops new methodologies for analyzing data in order to search for sources of high-energy photon radiation in space, such as the remnants of stars or nurseries of massive stars. Students who work with her are typically interested in developing strong programming skills.

Weinstein, who also does workshops for Science Bound on Saturdays throughout the school year, is excited to help a student gain more experience in a research setting and build a support network of researchers in the field.

Geology and Atmospheric Sciences

Sven Morgan, professor and chair of geological and atmospheric sciences, also hosted many Science Bound and other underrepresented students this summer for a one-day activity through the Early Outreach Program, a week-long summer program for Iowa resident multicultural students and potential first-generation college students entering high school. The students looked at a stream table, topography and plate tectonics. Morgan, along with graduate students in the department, showed the students how streams erode land, as well as a 3D model of the land surface and how it relates to topographic maps. Maps were also used to examine how continents have shifted positions in the past.

Morgan said he hopes the students will gain a deeper appreciation for how rivers carve our landscape and how our continents have shifted as they examine fossils and that they will become excited by geology.

“I feel Science Bound is important because getting kids interested in science can translate into becoming better informed citizens and even future scientists,” he said. “In my experience, young people become turned on to science by becoming inspired by an inspiring teacher. I hope I can be a small part of that.”

Project Seed

Javier Vela, associate professor of chemistry, started a local chapter of Project SEED at Iowa State, a summer research program through the American Chemistry Society to give economically disadvantaged students a glimpse of what it’s like to be a chemist.

Vela works with Science Bound to recruit students for the program. This year there were more than 40 applicants. Three students were chosen from Roosevelt and North High School in Des Moines and will work with Vela; Vincenzo Venditti, assistant professor of chemistry; and Jared Anderson, professor of chemistry.

“I was introduced to chemistry and, more generally, the physical sciences, as a high school student at the age of 15,” Vela said. “I credit these experiences with my decision to go into STEM to pursue a career in chemistry. I would be thrilled to be able to have a similar impact on other high school students.”

Aracely Campos, a senior at Des Moines Hoover High School, participated in Project SEED after her freshman year of high school. After participating in Science Bound, Campos went on to take an AP chemistry course during her sophomore year of high school and participate in two other science related internship programs after her sophomore and junior years of high school.

“This opportunity was truly an honor, as it meant I would be learning outside of the classroom in a completely different environment,” said Campos. “Not only that, but I would also be in a college laboratory surrounded by motivated professionals who were willing to help me and wanted to see me succeed.”

This summer, Vela will work with a student on spectroscopic techniques for making and characterizing new semiconductors which could be used for bio-imaging, telecommunications and energy conversion.

Venditti will work with a Science Bound student creating movies to inform the public about proteins. It will be his third summer having a student work on the videos through Project SEED. He had the idea to show protein structure and action after encountering confusion about his work with proteins. Eventually he hopes to put the videos on a YouTube channel and show them in an exhibit at a science center or at public seminars.

“Everybody’s familiar with the protein content of food, but most people do not understand that we do have proteins in our body and these proteins perform functions that are essential for our metabolism,” he said.

The student will use experimental data collected by Venditti’s lab throughout the year and software to build images of the protein at various stages of its functional cycle, then use this to build a video. The project helps the student learn more about both proteins as well as creating graphics.

“It’s very important that you know how to present your data, your idea, in a way that is appealing and clear,” he said.

Anderson has been a mentor in Project SEED since 2006. This summer he will work with a student developing new materials for the separation of volatile amines, organic molecules commonly used by the pharmaceutical industry to create medications. The project will work to improve the analysis of these molecules which currently are difficult to separate at low levels.

“It is rewarding to know that you have the chance to work with students at a crucial time when they are starting to consider future career paths,” Anderson said. “I’ve mentored students who have went on to do amazing things. I still hear from many of them regularly as they keep me updated on their career. It is quite wonderful to watch them enter my lab as high school students where they gain confidence before entering university.”