A closer look for West Linn-Wilsonville students
Ten West Linn-Wilsonville students were invited to step into the professional world of science and participate in college-level learning and beyond during a microscopy — the use of microscopes — and microanalysis conference at the Portland Convention Center Aug. 4-8.
The selected students — each chosen for their interest in microscopy and involvement with the International Science and Engineering Fair last school year — were paired with Portland State University undergraduate science majors as part of a pilot program that introduces high school students and undergraduates to microscopy through participation in the conference.
"This isn't just our top performing students I selected. A lot of them are girls, a lot of them are students of color and (are from) a broad socioeconomic range," said Dr. Jennifer Wells, ISEF program coordinator.
The conference involved thousands of microscopists sharing the latest technologies and explaining how they use the instruments in their professional careers.
Recent Wilsonville High School graduate Hannah Budroe spent the last two years of high school using directional selection to make a certain type of phytoplankton — a key part of the ocean's ecosystem — more tolerant to ocean acidification caused by climate change to help them survive better in that type of environment. She used a scanning electron microscope to examine the physical changes of the cell itself, which was her first introduction to microscopy. Budroe said she thought the conference was "mind blowing" and enjoyed attending the workshops and conference with undergraduate students because she said the content was at such a high academic level that she didn't always understand the technical jargon.
"They (some of the undergraduates) were able to sometimes explain it in a way that was easier for me to understand because they were closer to our level of understanding," Budroe said, adding that she didn't know what to expect going into the conference but learned and talked to many different people. "Seeing how people interact at these kinds of things is super inspiring."
Prior to the conference, the students attended workshops led by PSU physics professor Erik Sanchez — one of the key leaders in bringing this pilot program to fruition, along with Wells and Joshua Silverstein of the Microscopy and Microanalysis Education Outreach Committee — to learn the language associated with the topic of the conference and rotated through five stations where they learned about different research-grade digital microscopes. The workshops were led by PSU graduate students.
Students were then invited to attend the conference presentations, network with professionals and check out the exhibit floor.
WL-WV students also presented their ISEF projects to college students and industry professionals, and were later awarded recognition by the Microscopy and Microanalysis Education Outreach Committee.
West Linn High School senior Nina Pejcinovic received first place for her project using soybean shells to formulate a biodegradable plastic that uses less energy and less toxic acids to produce the plastic; Budroe received second for her project and WHS senior Viv Kiss and junior Yaya Kiss received third place for their project that examined if a scanning electron microscope is a useful tool for detecting ingested plastic in Manila Clams.
"It (the conference) went really well," Wells said. "It provides a really good network for them (WL-WV students) that will go beyond just this workshop. Now they know all these people who are well-connected in this microscopy society."
Though Budroe said she didn't make any connections with microscopists, she said she learned a lot listening to them explain their microscopes and how it relates to their projects. She also saw her high school peers gathering business cards and networking, and said her experience motivated her to continue attending science conferences and present her own research in the future. Budroe is attending University of San Diego this fall and hopes to become a research biologist.
For the Kiss sisters, they enjoyed meeting the different salesmen, professors, manufacturers and students. To help with future science projects, they made connections with people who they said could help them understand what microscopes or software to use and help improve their project.
"I really liked meeting the people. They were willing to talk about their trade and how their machines work. It was nice of them to share their time with high school students," Viv said, adding that they enjoyed looking at the digital microscopes that gave a 3D visual of the sample. "We learned so much and we had to present so there were grad students coming up and saying 'Why didn't you use this (microscope)'? and we didn't know that was a thing until five minutes ago."
During one of the conference days, two high school and two undergraduate students were invited to participate in a round table discussion about how to get these research-grade microscopes into the classroom, but it was canceled. Wells was disappointed the discussion didn't happen, but said she networked with Hitachi employees while at the conference about an instrument loan program run by Hitachi's Inspire STEM Education Program, where teachers can receive training, materials, online access to help develop lesson plans and can borrow a research-grade digital microscope. Wells said the microscope will be available for students participating in ISEF next school year for about two or three weeks.
"It provides better equitable access," she said.
Though the conference won't be held in Oregon next year, it alternates from East Coast to West Coast each year, Wells said she plans to work with the state level ISEF program coordinator in each state to create an award students can win at their state-wide level science fair.
"This award would entail recognition from the Microscopy Society of America, the Microanalysis Society and the International Field Emission Society, plus support the cost of attending the Microscopy and Microanalysis conference in their own state where they would present their work in a professional poster session," Wells said in an email.
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