AOS - The Academy of Science


How many high school students have developed their own research proposal, written a report about its feasibility, found necessary collaborators and mentors, carried out their project for two years, and traveled internationally to do so? George Wolfe, the Director of the Academy of Science, would like that number to be higher. As director of this highly competitive magnet school within the Loudoun County public school system in Virginia, Wolfe has shown that the 68 students they admit each year are capable of just that. In this unique system, high school students take integrated science and math classes and develop their own two-year research projects. They perform their experiments at the Academy, which is handsomely equipped thanks to a partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The work of these students is very impressive and explains why so many eighth graders vie for a spot each year. “Not every kid comes in here a strong critical thinker, and that’s what we expect them to be when they leave,” says Wolfe, emphasizing that their graduates are not only technically skilled but also well versed in how science is done.

Students work with teachers to perform all of the necessary experiments for their projects, but like all other scientists Academy students will get stuck. If a student chooses a research focus that one of their teachers is not familiar with, such as concussions and their effects on the neurobiology of fruit flies, it becomes hard for students to progress. This is where practicing scientists can help. “Even more than (resources), what I always need are mentors and internships, particularly the mentors” to help with such roadblocks, says Wolfe. Internships are a great opportunity for scientists to gain eager and technically skilled summer students.

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