Encouraging excellence with independent science research

In the high school science department, a new program is underway set to revolutionize the way students are able to pursue their passions for research in science.

Set up last year, the independent research program began as a pathway for students to develop their skills beyond the boundaries of their AP courses, by participating in self-driven research. “Independent, self-driven and curiosity-driven research is core to the act of studying science,” explained HS Head of Science Andrew Ringham.

A group of Grade 12 independent research students working to genetically modify E.coli to make it capable of heavy metal bioremediation

The high school science spaces underwent an overhaul last summer, incorporating new science labs, offices and open learning spaces, thanks to the ASL New Frontiers campaign. In the process of designing how the spaces could best be utilized, the science department considered how they could help students interested in student-driven research—ultimately, incorporating an entire section of lab space just for them to use.

Thirteen Grade 12 students worked on independent research in the 2017-18 school year, meeting once a cycle to work on their projects. Students focus on an area of particular interest to them—projects include quantum physics, environmental sustainability, computational encryption, disease propagation and species evolution driven by climate change—and work with faculty members from across the entire science department, receiving support from teachers who specialize in their chosen topics. “It’s a department-led, shared initiative, and something we hope to grow into a regular part of our curricular program,” continued Andrew.

A Grade 12 independent research student creating a muscle sensor to attach to his neck to experiment with creating sounds using different body muscles

On 5 June, our high school independent research scientists presented a poster session in the new Learning Commons, inviting the community to drop by to discuss their work from this year. The students were enthusiastic about their discoveries and excited to share their work. Topics presented included water decontamination, rocket fuel design, quantum optics and Martian landing gear.

High School Principal Dr. Jack Phillips, who attended the session, commented, “This is what science is all about. This is students applying their learning and showing initiative, and turning their curiosity into asking questions about the world around them.”

Funding for the independent research program was made possible by the PCA One of a Kind auction in 2017. “The additional funding provided by the auction is an incredible asset to help us further develop this program,” said Mr. Ringham. “We’re confident that the money donated will be beneficial in creating a long-term, sustainable program for the future scientists of ASL."