“Robert” the cricket, pinned to a board for the sake of science, was not having one of his best days.
But he was helping Jasmin Marquez, 15, a rising 11th-grader, and Aries Henriquez, 15, a rising 10th-grader, with an experiment.
In a Wheaton High School classroom, the two girls in lab coats carefully examined the cricket. Wires ran from the pins that held the cricket to Jasmin’s cell phone, which was playing music.
“It’s the electrical signals that cause it to jerk and move,” Marquez said.
Marquez and Henriquez are two of many young science enthusiasts, including rising 9th-graders through rising 11th-graders from the high school, who participated in a Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Sciences (GEMS) program from Aug. 13 to 17 at Wheaton High School.
The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research runs 12 GEMS program sites around the country, most in army research labs.
Walter Reed’s first GEMS program at the high school included one engineering group and two biomedical groups who got the chance to dig into a variety of projects and experiments, from dissecting sheeps’ brains to testing bacteria cultures for antibiotic properties.
Debra Yourick, director of science education and strategic communications at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said one of the program’s aims is to foster the students’ interest and involvement in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects so that they hopefully become long-term pursuits.
“This is a whole lot more fun as a lifetime investment,” Yourick said.
A group of students focusing on engineering used the week to build model bridges. On Friday, they presented proposals, complete with design sketches and a budget, and their finished bridges in a competition to win “a contract.”
Tiago Correia, 14, a rising ninth-grader at the high school, worked with his group on a cable-stayed bridge, which would include a roadway, lights and diagonal pillars.
Correia, who wants to be an aerospace engineer, said he can now see how math and science come into play in constructing a bridge.
“Now that I’m actually building it, I can tell how it fits together,” he said.
Omari Sarjeant, a program coordinator and electrical engineer, said the program helps young students overcome misconceptions about engineering and understand its basis in design and analysis to find solutions to real problems.
“Once they realize it’s not that difficult when you break it down, then they kinda just jump into it,” Sarjeant said.
He said that the project allows kids to use lessons from workshops to understand “how does it apply to the project and beyond the project.”
Marquez said she appreciated the chance to work in the biomedical activities.
“We do a lot of hands-on stuff to enforce the things we do during the week,” she said.
Keenan Bailey, a post-baccalaureate student and one of the program’s near-peer mentors who instructs and guides the kids, adapted an experiment based on original research so that the kids in the program could see how pesticides affects a cricket’s brain much like nerve agents affect a human’s brain.
While Bailey also talked to the kids before the experiments to give them background knowledge, he said they are more engaged when they are producing the results themselves.
“When you actually have the reaction in front you, you can appreciate It so some much more,” Bailey said. “It cements things in your brain.”
He said the students who come in, “they want to be there.”
“We try to build on that excitement as much as we can,” Bailey said.