Laura D’Aquila, 16, pressed a soldering iron to a circuit board as a wisp of smoke unraveled from the melting metal and dissolved into the air. The network of wires has wheels destined for a curving racetrack and will eventually be a self-guiding mini car.
For two weeks in mid-July, D’Aquila had forgone the beach and backyard barbeques for Stony Brook University’s engineering workshop, one of three high-tech laboratories Long Island high schoolers visited to wet their feet in the waves of science this summer.
Stony Brook University’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CESAME), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Dolan DNA Learning Center and Brookhaven National Laboratory hosted science camps and research programs to encourage interested high school students to learn about science, research and career opportunities during the summer’s academic doldrums. Though the warm weather may now be long gone, the memories of science camp—along with the knowledge it instilled—is burning bright within the teenagers who participated, many from Long Island.
D’Aquila, like her fellow engineering camp students, was participating in one of CESAME’s summer camps, where programs range from engineering to microbiology to forensics.
“It gives me faith in the future when you see these young people in there,” said Dr. David Bynum, director of CESAME. “They could be out there hanging out. What are they doing? They’re learning science. That’s hard to beat.
“The math and science are kind of a vehicle for letting them get an expanded view of what’s possible with their life,” he added.
The engineering camp is one of the five under the CESAME umbrella and was founded by Dr. Monica Bugallo and Bynum. The program’s hands-on approach allowed D’Aquila to apply what she already learned in physics class.
“I took physics in high school so it was great to see the principles applied, like with electricity and voltage and resistors and everything, so it was really cool to just see it in practice,” she said.
This hands-on education is a major feature of engineering camp, explained Bugallo.
“That is what the students like,” she said. “They like to see a product or they like to see something they made…a final product…for them it’s very important. They like to play.”
In another building, the other half of the engineering camp was assembling AM receiving radios. Alex Frieder, 15, of Half Hollow Hills East High School, radiated joy as his radio caught a few Spanish channels in the corner of the back room. After this experience, he said he knows he wants to work in some realm of engineering for the rest of his life.
“The best part is yet to come,” said Chris Datsikas, 15, still working on his radio. “After all the problem-solving and troubleshooting and it works. That’s the best part.”
Datsikas, who attends Hicksville High School, said he feels lucky to live in the proximity of programs like CESAME.
The week before, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Dolan DNA Learning Center, 15-year-old Kevin Clare hovered over his gel electrophoresis experiment. He raised his hand and aimed a pipette—an ultra-precise type of dropper—its tip filled with dyed bacteria, over a 1-centimeter-wide well in a tile of clear gel within a plastic box.
The students were working on the creation of a plasmid, or circular strand of DNA, that is antibiotic resistant. The group tested the successful creation of the experiment’s ingredients by performing gel electrophoresis—a technique used to compare DNA sequences.
Clare and his fellow scientists were students at one of the Center’s eight camps, where sixth-to-twelfth graders learn about genetics.
“It’s really going to help me when I become a biologist in the field,” he said, confidently.