Summer of Science

On a sunny July afternoon, two high school students created a small earthquake near West Gym by pounding a sledgehammer on a metal plate at distinct intervals along a line in the grass. They were conducting a seismic survey of the area, hoping to map the Cannon River’s pathway some 10,000 years ago by figuring out the bedrock depth at different points.

It was all part of the inaugural Carleton Summer Science Institute (CSSI), a three-week summer academic program for high school juniors and seniors modeled after the College’s successful Summer Writing Program.

“Studies have shown that there aren’t enough scientists in the United States for projected future needs,” says geology professor Cameron Davidson, who led CSSI with biology professors Jennifer Wolff and Annie Bosacker, assisted by five current students and recent alumni. “These kids have self-identified as being interested in science. The challenge is to keep them interested as they make the transition from high school to college.”

The 2009 program, supported in part by 2008 grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, hosted 36
students conducting research in three areas: geoscience, neuroscience, and animal behavior.

Carleton faculty members designed college-level, hands-on research projects, modeled after their own research interests, for the CSSI students. In addition to participating in the seismic survey, students studied water quality in the Cannon River, and the relationship between precipitation and discharge in the river. Others researched the pheno-menon of “social jumpers” among baboon populations, using data sets from Tanzania’s Gombe National Park.

Meghna Kataky, a senior at Woodbury (Minn.) High School, researched how C. elegans worms were attracted to or repelled by certain scents, such as spearmint or banana oil. “I liked the opportunity to learn a little bit about three different areas of science, and a lot about one particular topic,” she says. As a bonus, Kataky was so impressed with Carleton that she plans to apply for admission.

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