The Princeton Day School Energy & Climate Scholars program offers an unparalleled opportunity for Upper School students to meet face to face with leading research scientists and explore urgent environmental issues a higher level. While these interactions typically occur on the PDS campus, the Scholars recently ventured to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton to learn directly from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.
Sustainability program coordinator Liz Cutler, who also teaches Upper School English, had specific goals in mind when she founded this application-only program for PDS upper schoolers.
“Among the key outcomes of the Energy & Climate Scholars program are to expose the students to very bright Princeton University graduate researchers from all over the world, have conversations about the environment that involve a wide range of academic fields and voices, encourage PDS students to see the interconnections between their own areas of interest and environmental issues, and show a variety of fascinating job paths,” Cutler explained.
The program is a significant commitment for students and relies heavily on student participation, with the students taking the lead on determining topics and driving the dialogue and inquiry. Each year, a dedicated group of PDS sophomores, juniors and seniors meets roughly every month with selected Princeton University Ph.D. students for dinner and presentations, similar to TED Talks, on their research. The sessions are highly interactive, with Q&A, simulations and extended discussions, fueled by some pretty tasty food.
So far, this year's monthly meetings have covered research topics including: the environmental impacts of climate change; the social ramifications of climate change; and the politics of energy and climate policy. Graduate students visiting the PDS campus have represented an array of fields, including: Architecture; Economics; Mechanical, Aerospace, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Geosciences; and Public Policy.
During the students' NOAA visit, research oceanographer Jessica Luo explained their work with ocean drifters, devices that float on the ocean's surface to investigate currents, temperature, salinity and more. Software engineer Spencer Clark discussed the appeal and challenges of conducting large-scale global weather model simulations to capture more accurate storm-resolving data. David Paynter, a physical scientist, talked with the students about how climate change is affecting Earth's 'energy budget' -- the balance between the radiant energy that Earth receives and the radiant energy that leaves the planet. To close the visit, the students toured the high-performance computer facility with system administrators Louis Wust and John Nestor.
"It was really fascinating to get a glimpse of what science research can look like in the real world and see first-hand the actual implications of the work," Senior Harjap Singh notes. "The visit showed the in-the-field application of the actual science behind the kind of data that constitutes the Ph.D. students' research presentations we see during our monthly meetings.
Next on the agenda: the Energy & Climate Scholars are working hard to host a spring Climate Summit at the Watershed Institute, an annual responsibility they have undertaken for the past several years and which has a reputation as the best high-school-student-run climate conference in the state. The theme of the this year's summit is "Food, Agriculture and Climate." The students have partnered with two outstanding organizations in order to ensure the best and most relevant professional speakers attend this year's gathering. Princeton Studies Food, a Princeton University organization that builds upon the interest and expertise among the faculty, alumni, students, and staff of the University, seeks to provide solutions to critical food-related challenges by approaching the issues through a lens of academic exploration and cultural connection. In addition, the Northeast Organic Farming Association will provide front-line expertise at the issues surrounding food and agriculture.
Stay tuned for an update as more information about the summit emerges!