ASU’s SCENE program offers high school students the opportunity to work with teachers on their own research questions
Adriana Baniecki is a home schooled high school student from Chandler, Arizona with a passion for physics. She likes to understand how the world around her works.
When she was in ninth grade, her community college teachers presented physics as an investigation of the real world.
“We were dropping bullets from the second floor of the building, and measuring and using all of these lab analysis tools and all of that to kind of show how math underpins the real world,” she said.
Now Baniecki is enrolled in a little-known but long-standing program at Arizona State University, where the valley’s brightest high school students conduct real research at the university. She works with a physics professor to analyze the theoretical physics of condensed matter.
No one makes papier-mâché volcanoes in SCENE.
The science and engineering experience (SCENE) The program has been around for over a decade, providing research experiences to sophomores, juniors and senior high school students. Students work in laboratories under the guidance of ASU faculty and students to answer their own original research questions and participate in regional and national competitions.
“I actually applied for this in ninth grade,” Baniecki said. “Every time I started my mom and I kind of looked on Facebook and stuff just to find opportunities for high school kids to get into research areas because that’s something that interests me.”
Students who are seriously considering a career in science or engineering are strongly encouraged to apply to the program. SCENE is offered in a variety of disciplines including biodesign, engineering, life sciences, molecular sciences, physics and more. Applications are accepted from June 1 to July 31.
“You get the best students in the valley,” said the program director Nate newman, Professor Lamonte H. Lawrence in Solid State Sciences and faculty member of the School of Matter, Transport and Energy Engineering. “And as much as we would like to say that they all go to ASU, they go to a lot of other places, and the people who go to Stanford and Berkeley and MIT can often be amazing.”
Newman explained how the program’s mentors introduce high school students to speed and research. First of all, it explains in what areas they work. The following session describes the questions to be answered in the areas of interest.
Then he gives them reading material.
“You choose a question that you must be interested in answering,” Newman said. “And I also involve my graduate students in these discussions. … We give them more or less a project that a graduate student – even a master’s or even a doctorate could – could take.
They choose it and they own it. This is their project. They are treated like graduate students. If they need to learn how to use specific equipment or software, they learn how to do it, first in someone else’s observation session, and then on their own with close supervision.
“They work with Nobel Prize winners,” Newman said. “You know, Frank Wilcek is one of the faculties with which I work closely. So some of the SCENE students overlap that. It’s really a lot of fun, and it’s been incredibly productive and they bring skills and abilities that you don’t always get in a graduate student.
Baniecki studies the principles of superconductivity and magnetism of very thin materials in order to understand their behavior.
How does it feel to do real research instead of a textbook exercise?
“It’s very different,” she says. “There are a lot of new things. It’s a different mindset as opposed to just memorizing different facts and learning things that have already been discovered rather than trying new things. … I’m learning programming tools and how to operate my computer, but I’m also learning the new science behind it.
Baniecki is framed by Antia Sanchez Botana, assistant professor of physics.
“It’s just great to work with them, especially in the context of what I do,” Botana noted. “Being able to explain to people who are at different levels as well is a great exercise because especially for physics most people tend to think of it as the most complex and it should be very simple.”
When students start out, Botana always asks them if they want to do something more beat up or if they really want to do the real thing.
“So far, I haven’t had a single one to say, ‘I want to do something that someone else has already done,'” she said. “And I think that’s the great thing about these. She (Baniecki) regularly performs the kinds of calculations that we do for our research.
It may be award winning work. In 2021, student Bailey Tischer of Gilbert, Arizona, won first place at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair for measuring cell permeability as a function of electrical and chemical disturbances. She also won a $ 28,000 scholarship to ASU and was named Future Innovator of the Year by the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation / Arizona Technology Council in August 2021.
Tischer’s case is not unusual for the students of SCENE. Newman has a four-page list of winners like her.
“A very big thank you to everyone who puts (the program) on because I have searched for different programs and this is the first one I come across that really lets you delve into things that you cannot find as a high school student, ”Baniecki said.
Top image: Assistant professor Antia Sanchez Botana (left) answers some questions about the behavior of electrons in materials for Adriana Baniecki, a home-schooled high school student, on October 11. Baniecki participates in the Science and Engineering Experience (SCENE) program which provides cutting-edge scientific research experience to second-year, junior and senior high school students. Photo by Charlie Leight / ASU News