On November 11, seven PDS seniors stood on stage at McAneny Theater for a round of applause from an audience of about 150 PDS families along with several faculty and staff. Everyone had come to this "Poster Night" event to hear from the students about the Research Experience (REx) program and view the beautiful posters summarizing their impressive work accomplished through PDS and in summer internships at leading labs and universities across the country.
The REx program is Princeton Day School's signature science research experience program for Upper School students. In the 11th grade, students have the opportunity to apply for this selective independent study program in which they explore particular areas of scientific research through guided inquiry, dynamic lessons, and rich discussions. Students dive deeply through independent study and choose a field and area of scientific inquiry that resonates with them. Guided by faculty, students then apply for summer internships at leading professional and academic laboratories across the country. They complete their work in the fall of their senior year, capped off by the poster presentation, and spend the rest of the year helping mentor the new junior cohort of REx program participants.
Science Department Chair Jason Park emceed the evening along with REx co-directors Dr. Charles Alt and Dr. Kelley Bethoney, both Upper School biology faculty with award-winning teaching careers. Former PDS Science Department Chair and renowned scientist and entrepreneur, Dr. Lee Rosenberg, who was instrumental in developing the STEAM program at PDS with Mr. Park, was also on hand. Founding REx program coordinator Dr. Carrie Norin, who moved on from PDS last summer due to her family's decision to relocate out of the area, also attended to commemorate the completion of the senior REx cohort's work.
Senior Fechi Inyama closed the theater portion of the evening, sharing key insights about the program on behalf of the group and noting what the others had also discovered: that she arrived at her lab internship surprised to find that PDS had prepared her exceptionally well to contribute to the lab's work shoulder to shoulder with college and post-college students. Fechi also spoke for the group when she remarked on the extensive personal growth she experienced during a summer of professional work while living at or commuting to a college.
The audience then moved out to the theater lobby, where each student held court at their respective posters summarizing their scientific inquiry process and fielding a barrage of questions from attendees about the REx experience.
Rex Topics and Internship Highlights
Krista Caasi '20 studied the epidemiology of depression at Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital under Dr. Erin Dunn. The lab researches the possible causes of depression and promotes brain health. During her internship, Krista helped organize data and wrote for the lab's blog, Said & Dunn. You can read her post here. She also helped write a literature review on the use of planned communities in mental health research.
"I chose this internship because mental health research, especially among teens, is a major interest of mine and something I might want to pursue in the future," Krista shared. This lab, in particular, has a unique, interdisciplinary approach in investigating the genetic and social factors of depression."
Andrew Ciccarone '20 investigated fatigue performance on steel highway bridges at Lehigh University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering under Dr. Richard Sause at the ATLSS lab. He studied civil engineering and specifically the implementation of the orthotropic bridge deck in the U.S. Throughout his internship he ground, polished, etched, measured and analyzed different cut-out sections of a rib from an orthotropic bridge deck.
Andrew's research focus stemmed from a longtime interest. "I chose civil engineering because I knew I had an interest in engineering, and the work at this lab seemed very interesting," he shared.
Alex DiNovi '20 interned at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab (GFDL), a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Princeton University. She worked with two postdoctoral research scientists, Dr. Nathaniel Johnson and Dr. Bushuk, to investigate the simulation of Arctic sea ice variability and trends in Global Climate Models (GCM's).
"I joined PDS EnAct and then Energy & Climate Scholars, and was inspired by these groups to choose climate change" as the focal point of her REx work, Alex explained.
Fechi Inyama '20 measured bioaccumulation of contaminants, such as methylmercury, in wetlands at Rutgers University's Department of Environmental Sciences under Dr. John Reinfelder. Through her work, she determined that methylmercury concentrations in biota biomagnified as trophic levels increased. She performed this analysis using methylmercury and total mercury analysis methods.
"When I initially joined REx, I was interested in doing oncology research, but as the year went on and we conducted personal research, I discovered the field of toxicology and became very interested in this topic, which is why I found Dr. Reinfelder's work to be compelling to me," Fechi explained.
Madison Izzard '20 analyzed the movement ecology of sharks at the University of Rhode Island Department of Biological Sciences under Dr. Bradley Wetherbee. She conducted research on Sandbar Sharks and Blacktip Sharks and analyzed the data to see if there are any correlations between the different sharks, their locations and their life history traits.
"I have always been interested in marine biology," Madison noted. "By doing this internship I was able to get hands-on experience in the field, which will help me in the future deciding what career I want to pursue."
Sachin Patel '20 interned with Dr. Erin Meier and Dr. Argye Hillis at the Johns Hopkins University Center of Excellence in Stroke Detection and Diagnosis investigating stroke, white matter degeneration (a.k.a. Leukoaraiosis), and Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA).
"I had a personal connection with stroke and its effects as I had a family member have one," Sachin noted. As a way to cope with his family's situation, he learned as much as he could about it. "I did so much of my own research on google before even applying for the REx class," he added.
Luigi Soriano '20 investigated the genomics of neuroblastoma at Harvard University and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute under Dr. Rani George. Specifically, he investigated the effect of a protein-inhibiting drug on neuroblastoma's immunogenicity.
"When I was 3 months old, I was diagnosed with stage 1 neuroblastoma," Luigi shared. "It was safely removed by surgery, and I had regular checkups since then for any potential signs of relapse. Throughout my life, I never really got to learn about neuroblastoma and what it even is. As I was already intrigued by biology, I figured that REx would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about the cancer that I had."
The PDS STEAM Impact
Each of the seniors also had valuable insights about how STEAM at PDS has shaped their school experience:
Luigi: "PDS definitely has programs that aren't present at other schools, such as 9th Grade STEAMinar and REx."
Sachin: "This program is the exact reason why STEAM at PDS is the best. The fantastic thing about the class is that there is no teacher really. We have a facilitator who starts us on our journey for the first couple of months, however, when January comes around, each student is his/her own facilitator. So little, if any, high schools in the country have a neuroscience class, for example. REx...led me to do so much more, such as joining the International Youth Neuroscience Association [and] becoming an editor of a science journal called the Youth Science Journal."
Madison: "PDS has allowed me to explore topics that most schools do not have classes in. PDS allowed me to choose what topic I wanted to study and I led the way in my discoveries instead of being taught a certain curriculum."
Fechi: "STEAM at PDS is highly interactive. My passion for science was born at PDS, and I credit this to the many opportunities that PDS students have to fully engage with a STEAM field. "
Alex: "At PDS I have been able to take advanced courses in all the sciences, math and computer science; I feel I will be ready for any engineering or research science major I chose in college."
Andrew: "The supportive, experienced, and extremely knowledgeable staff make the difference in the PDS STEAM program."
Krista: "PDS supported my research interests and prepared me for my internship in a way no other school could. I'd already used R Studio to analyze data for an experiment last spring, and I was able to impress my coworkers with my prior experience using the program. My notes from my AP Human Geography course with Mr. Freedholm also surprisingly came in handy when I was writing about the history of suburban development for my paper on planned communities."
Images: (top) The seven PDS REx seniors, from left to right, Krista Caasi, Luigi Soriano, Alex DiNovi, Sachin Patel, Andrew Ciccarone, Maddie Izzard, Fechi Inyama. (bottom) Current and former PDS REx faculty, from left to right, Dr. Kelley Bethoney, Dr. Lee Rosenberg, Jason Park, Head of School Paul Stellato, Dr. Carrie Norin, Dr. Charles Alt.