Kinnelon students tackle high level research over the summer

By Deborah Walsh, Suburban Trends
Although some students might relish a respite from the most challenging of school work over the summer months, a couple of Kinnelon High School (KHS) students seized an opportunity to conduct high level scientific research at the Waksman Student Scholars Program (WSSP) Summer Institute at Rutgers University.
 

Madelaine Travaille, the school district's science supervisor, said a science research club was started at KHS in the 2015-16 school year. Two of the 10 dedicated club members, Pranav Reddy and Kate Dolph, applied and were accepted into the WSSP Summer Institute, which is an intensive three-week program where the students complete lab work with scientists at Rutgers.

The students worked identifying the genetics of a duckweed plant known as Landoltia punctata. The students' identification of the nucleic acid sequences of genes was published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information sequence databases.

Travaille first became acquainted with WSSP when she was a science teacher in the Montville school district. This program provides opportunities for high school students and their teachers to conduct an authentic research project in molecular biology and bioinformatics.

These students participated in the Barcode of Life program, which supports the generation and application of DNA barcode data with the data being published in an international database.

Besides it being a learning experience for students, WSSP supplies districts with all the materials and equipment necessary to participate in the program.

The science research students at KHS worked twice a week after school with KHS science teacher Nancy Rinaldi and Travaille and learned science by actually doing science. Travaille said they had exposure to molecular biology research techniques that are not normally learned at the high school level.

"They are participating in genome mapping. By doing this research, they realized potentially a cure for cancer could be found," said Travaille.

Half the year was spent doing lab work and the other half of the year was spent analyzing DNA on the computer by using bioinformatics, which is an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data. As an interdisciplinary field of science, bioinformatics combines computer science, statistics, mathematics, and engineering to analyze and interpret biological data.

The club was open to all students. Some who joined had an interest in medicine, and some had an interest in molecular biology/genetics. Others who participated planned on pursuing physical therapy and pharmaceutical studies in college.

"These kids are amazing. We can only introduce material to them. They have to dedicate themselves to it. I've never seen such enthusiasm. They just ran with it," said Travaille. "They realized what an impact it made on them, and they want to share it with others."

Photo courtesy of Kinnelon High School: Pranav Reddy and Kate Dolph present their research at the Waksman Student Scholars Program Summer Institute at Rutgers.