Shelter Island students are among a small group statewide who have undertaken scientific explorations for which there was no technology even a few years ago.
Thanks to the cooperation of Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the students are engaged in projects that will move scientific knowledge forward and put them on the road to careers where they can continue to provide new knowledge to the wider scientific community.
So said their teacher, Dan Williams. Mr. Williams has engaged his students in programs at the two laboratories that provide materials, equipment and guidance to the students at no cost.
And because parents provide transportation to the two labs, there’s no cost involved for local taxpayers.
Mr. Williams is a teaching fellow at Cold Spring and involved with BNL. The two labs view involvement with the students as opportunities to move their research forward, he said, thanks to the student interns, while also affording an opportunity to evaluate the students for possible permanent jobs when they are ready to embark on their careers.
Students from only 20 of the 127 Long Island school districts participate in the various experiments.
While everyone is familiar with bar coding used in labeling products, Mr. Williams’ students have been undertaking DNA bar coding in a project that’s providing information about differences in DNA that are not readily visible.
Mr. Williams spent a week and a half last July training at Cold Spring and returned to his classroom in September to recruit two teams of two students each to work on a water project dealing with bacteria.
The students took samples of living organisms gathered from three basic areas — a dock; a boat that runs only in local waters; and a boat that travels a much wider area, even leaving United States waters.
Studying samples of materials from the three through computer technology allows the students to explore tens of thousands of DNA signatures, Mr. Williams said. The students are able to gather information on what elements affect the various samples and whether the water in each area is healthy or presents bacterial problems that can be dangerous.
“It’s fun and also kind of scary,” Mr. Williams said about the early findings. He and the students will be disclosing some of the information at an upcoming Board of Education meeting.
While much of the work is done at the high school lab, some was undertaken at Cold Spring and BNL labs.
Seniors Will Garrison and Nicolette Frasco are working as a team while juniors Sarah Lewis and Francesca Frasco are working together.
While the teams have worked diligently throughout the school year, the juniors and new students will have to pick up in September and take the project forward.
Will has also been exploring proteins, a subject that caught his interest about six years ago,
Mr. Williams said. His experiments are going to be able to answer questions nobody asked in the past because the technology was lacking, Mr. Williams added. The studies move slowly — one step forward and 10 steps back, the teacher said.
During the last week of June, after Will has graduated from high school, he will join Mr. Williams at a workshop at BNL.
Some of the groundwork today’s students are doing was established by Emily Hyatt, who graduated in 2016 and is currently studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Will has been able to carry it forward and Francesca Frasco is expected to pick it up next September.
The achievements of today’s students has not gone unnoticed with four students — Katharine Doyle, Jane Richards, Emma Teodoru and Matthew Strauss taking home trophies in April from the Long Island Science Congress. Another student. Luke Lowell-Liszanckie was also honored by ASM International Long Island Chapter, a society of materials engineers and scientists.