Weston Research Scholars Program Furthers STEM Research

By Annie Xiao

The Weston Research Scholars Program is a highly selective research opportunity for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders. Josh Weston ‘46 donated $500,000 to fund the program and, starting in the summer of 2012, Matt Mandery ’61, the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation CEO, led the program, alongside a group of Tech teacher-mentors.

“Weston Scholars is a program aimed at increasing the number of Tech students doing independent research,” said Dr. John Eggebrecht, a Physics teacher.

“The program encompasses all the sciences – Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering,” said Dr. Stephanie Tzall, a Biology teacher-mentor. “The students can experience doing research in a laboratory on a topic of their choice.”

Students are “invited to apply” by email if they have high enough grades. Both grades and teacher recommendations are considered when choosing the scholars. In 2012, 25 students were chosen out of 1,100 freshmen to become the first group of Weston Research Scholars at Brooklyn Tech.

Select students start the program during the summer, when they spend five weeks working in laboratories, doing research, and writing research papers alongside their mentors.

Dr. Eggebrecht said, “In their junior year we hope that they are working with research groups. During the academic year students can sustain that work, with a time commitment that matches their passion.”

The program aims to expose students to scientific research, as they gain scientific knowledge and experience. The student scholars agree – the program has been extremely beneficial in their studies.

Aileen Cai ’15 is a participant in the Weston Research Scholars program. “I felt that the program opened up many opportunities for me, and made me more interested in science, specifically immunology and cancer research.”

Arjun Krishna ’15, another scholar, commented, “The Weston Research Scholars program has really helped me find my path in what I’m interested in and has opened up so many doors to better my future such as internships and just getting to forge great relationships with teachers and the faculty at Tech.”

“This program introduced me into the research side of science and technology, before the program I didn’t think that I could be a person doing research that might actually have an effect on the scientific community around the world,” said Sarah Panitz ’15. “But now, I see that my project could help marine biologists study aquatic life and have a positive impact on the scientific community.

Working with the teacher-mentors, the scholars work on science projects and enter them into local and national competitions, such as the STEP, NYCSEF, Intel, and Siemens competitions.

Dr. Risa Parlo’s group took first place in the Biological Sciences section in the March STEP competition in Albany. Scholars Alexander Chong, Eva Justo, and Elaine Wong ’15 collaborated on their project, “Investigation of Bacterial Levels in New York City Waters Following Hurricane Sandy.”

Wong explained their process: “For the STEP competition, it was really hard coming up with a project, but after Hurricane Sandy, we discovered that some scientists had researched the phytoplankton in the water after Hurricane Katrina, so we decided to do the same except with bacteria. We collected water samples and grew the bacteria in nutrient broth and cultured them in different types of petri dishes. Then we recorded our data and observed the differences between then trials.”

“This was my first ever competition and I was ecstatic to win. I had no idea that our project was good enough to place. It gave me more confidence and encouraged me to pursue in science research,” Wong ’15 said.

Scholars Sarah Panitz ’15, Ben Bush ’15, and Joseph Kravets ’15 won a special award from 2013 New York City Science and Engineering Fair (NYSEF) for their project entitled “The Development and Testing of a Drone Solar Hydrogen Electric Eel”.

“Our project is designing and developing a drone eel that will use solar, hydrogen, and electric energy for a fuel source [solar panels and fuel cells]. Our drone is in the design phase in which we are currently testing the anguilliform locomotion of our drone,” Panitz ’15 said. “Our project has only begun this year, we will continue working on the project for the rest of our high school careers.”

The Weston Research Scholars will continue to work on their projects throughout their four years of high school. This allows them to continue gaining knowledge in a specialized area of study, which they are likely to use in their careers.

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