‘BEST’ young scientistsPublished 4:43pm Friday, April 26, 2013
BERRIEN SPRINGS — When speaking with seniors in the Berrien RESA Math and Science Center program, it becomes abundantly clear that these kids know more about science than the average student — or adult for that matter.
For instance, take Buchanan’s Gabriel Hodge, who was explaining his chemistry experiment during the 2013 BEST Early Research Symposium Friday afternoon at Andrews University.
Not only can Hodge correctly pronounce “superabsorbent polymer,” he knows what one is.
“It’s basically something that can absorb somewhere between 200 and 500 times its weight in water,” said Hodge, who will study computer science at the University of Michigan. “There’s one that already exists called sodium polyacrylate, which is used in diapers and toys and detergents.”
Why is it important for students to learn about things like superabsorbent polymers?
Dr. Desmond Murray, associate professor of chemistry at Andrews University, explained that scientific literacy is down in the United States.
“It’s ironic because we (U.S.) are on top of the world,” said Murray who teaches chemistry to Math and Science Center students. “Even if they don’t pursue chemistry — no matter what field these students go into, they are going to need critical thinking and scientific literacy.”
Friday’s symposium began in a chemistry lecture hall, where the program was introduced to about 50 people in attendance.
Attendees were then ushered into a hallway where students stood next to their research posters and answered questions about the experiment they’d been working on for months. Students then hit the lab to demonstrate a small piece of their experiment to the audience.
Jessica Thompson, of Edwardsburg High School, said the Math and Science Center prepared her better for college than traditional high school.
“We would never have any opportunity do experiments like this, so we wouldn’t have an idea of what real research is,” said Thompson, who plans to pursue a career in math research. “This has shown me that it can be really enjoyable and interesting. It’s changed what I thought a scientist really was.”
Matt Schiele, of Niles High, had similar thoughts.
“It’s a lot more rigorous than even advanced high school classes, but you get so much more out of it to where you are set for college,” said Schiele, who plans to study computer science at the University of Michigan. “I don’t fear going to college at all. I feel totally prepared.”
The symposium featured students from Niles, Edwardsburg, Brandywine, Buchanan, Coloma and Berrien Springs.