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These five middle schoolers spent their summer vacations learning how STEM is shaping the world

By Lucy Curtis

Five middle school scientists spent last summer exploring their scientific areas of interest at various summer camps.
Society for Science

While some students’ summer can be a break from academics, for many it offers an opportunity to explore a field of study more deeply than is possible during the school year. For several of the Society’s middle school scientists the summer months present a chance to attend STEM camps for a deep dive into their areas of interest. Below are just a few notable examples of the impressive learning and research pursued by this group of driven young people this past summer.

Emma and Sarah Simmons of Emmitsburg, Maryland who competed in the Broadcom MASTERS 2022, now known as the Thermo Fisher JIC, won individual awards for their project which addressed the need for portable treatments for equine respiratory diseases. As part of their awards, the two sisters had the opportunity to attend Purdue University’s week-long Junior Boilermaker Veterinary Camp. Throughout the week, Emma and Sarah learned from Purdue’s veterinary faculty and students as they explored veterinary medicine and procedures through hands-on learning, field trips and lectures.

The camp’s participants were exposed to the world of veterinary science by working in Purdue’s specialized vet labs, as well as traveling off-campus to learn from veterinarians working at the Indianapolis Zoo and a working dairy farm.

“We were able to learn from some of the top veterinary researchers in the country. We also had the amazing opportunity to interact with veterinary students. Both experiences gave us keen insights into what it will be like to be professional scientists and engineers.”

Both sisters have an interest in biomedical engineering and veterinary medicine, which informed their science competition project: a portable bronchodilator delivery system for equine inflammatory respiratory diseases. The sisters were inspired while observing one of the horses the two girls rode struggling with asthma during longer rides.

Moitri Santra of Oviedo, Florida (Broadcom MASTERS 2022) took home the second place technology award as well as an opportunity to attend a STEM summer camp. She decided to pursue her passion for medicine and medical innovation at the University of Connecticut’s Pre-College Summer Program with a focus on pre-med. Most days were spent at the UConn Health Center, with her time split between lectures in the morning and practical lessons in the afternoon using mannequins. Campers explored a different specialization every day, including pulmonology, cardiology, gastroenterology and internal medicine.

“Using these mannequins, we did simulations of emergency situations, and truly understood the dynamics behind sophisticated technologies that are used to assist patients,” Moitri said.

The complexity of the human body and its many functions has always been interesting for Moitri, but she said her desire to learn more about the medical field was bolstered by seeing the many projects focused on medical innovation presented by her fellow competitors atthe Society’s middle school STEM competition. This dual focus on individual and team learning opportunities followed her to summer camp as well.

Alexander “Lex” Montgomery of Titusville, Florida (Broadcom MASTERS 2022) won the first place in engineering category award on his project measuring the impact of different environmental conditions on corrosion found on launchpad structures. He then spent two weeks out of his summer traveling in New York City, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden learning about sustainable architecture through the Smithsonian Student Travel Program.

This trip allowed Lex to delve further into the topic which had brought him a first place prize: structural sustainability. He spent his days walking around the cities he was visiting while learning from expert architects and engineers. Each city offered a new learning opportunity, and Lex enjoyed being able to expand his education beyond the United States. Malmö was particularly interesting to Lex, as he found the architectural style “friendly and calming,” with obvious thought put into how buildings could meet human needs, serve an aesthetic purpose and further sustainability goals all at the same time.

Mahi Kohli of Olathe, Kansas (Broadcom MASTERS 2022) won second place in mathematics for her project identifying potential Alzheimer’s biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid to allow for earlier diagnoses. As part of her award Mahi had the opportunity to attend a STEM summer camp and chose to attend MathPath at the University of Portland for a four-week exploration of different math concepts and their applications.

Days at camp were spent learning about mathematical concepts from ancient civilizations, how to identify mathematical sequences in nature, modular arithmetic and more. Mahi also had the chance to learn from speakers who identified ways complex mathematics show up in our lives every day. Whether through something as serious as gerrymandering or as fun as solving crossword puzzles, Mahi and her fellow campers learned to look for math everywhere.

Mahi’s passion for computational biology brought her to new heights of exploration and discovery through her experiences at summer camp. However, her camp experience also made it clear to her that issues of underrepresentation persist throughout the world of STEM.

“Historically underrepresented students in STEM must be given equal opportunity to learn, and it starts in our own communities,” Mahi said. She’s tackling this issue by continuing a competition she founded, ‘STEMing with the Stars,’ which aims to inspire elementary-aged girls to pursue STEM fields.

Winners of this year’s Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge will be announced on November 1, 2023. Stay tuned to find out more!

Lucy Curtis