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Showcasing the Next Generation of Scientists
High school students team up with Vertex mentors to take their science fair projects to the next level
From studies examining the impact of organic solvents and water pollutants on Tetrahymena to innovative designs using 3D printing techniques, today’s high school science fair projects are reaching new heights – and demonstrating the promise of tomorrow’s scientists.
These and similar sophisticated exhibits are the culmination of our 2018 Science Fair Mentorship Program, a five-month collaboration between students from the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers in Boston (EMK) and the scientists and professionals from Vertex who mentored them. It’s also an example of our commitment to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) education, which is designed to inspire and equip under-resourced students to become the next generation of scientific leaders.
The EMK students and their projects recently took center stage at our Boston headquarters for the Science Fair Mentorship Showcase, an annual event that not only celebrates the work of the students and their mentors, but also helps the students prepare for the Boston Citywide Science Fair.
“Getting to interact with future scientists is always an enjoyable experience,” says second-year mentor Adithya Bhattachar, a Scientific Associate in our Formulation department who worked with his mentoring partner Andrew Estrup, a Scientific Associate in Materials, Discovery, and Characterization. “The students can practice communicating their findings with people at Vertex who will give them critical feedback and help them hone their ability to ask questions and think critically about scientific queries.”
Adithya and Andrew worked with senior Rudy Alvarez, one of the student scientists who created the “Universal Earbud Case” project with his 11th-grade partner JR O’Bryant.
“When I heard about 3D printing and the capabilities you can do with it, I was astonished,” Rudy says. “I wanted to come every Wednesday and start working on my project. It really gave me a structured group – a teamwork style where you had your mentors and could ask questions and get their feedback, and then have your partner, who’s there by your side helping you.”
This year – which marks the fifth year of the Science Fair Mentorship program – 15 EMK students in grades 10 through 12 spent two hours each Wednesday afternoon at the Thomas M. Menino Vertex Learning Lab, completing experiments and analyzing data for their science fair projects. Working in teams of two or three, the students partnered with 16 Vertex mentors, who hailed from various areas of the company, including Medical Writing, Legal, Information Sciences, Scientific Computing, Biostatistics, and more.
Kate Denton, who manages the Science Fair Mentorship program, noted this year’s science fair projects were concentrated around four model systems – Bacteria, Molecular Biology, Tetrahymena, and 3D printing – which helped the students focus on the skills and background needed to identify a topic and hit the ground running with their projects.
Mentor Rachel Pemberton, a Senior Scientific Associate in Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics, agrees that providing four options helped streamline the process for the students.
“They’re new to science and when every option for a project is available to them, it can almost be a detriment,” she says. “This approach allows students to focus more.”
After the results came in from the Boston Citywide Science Fair, five of the seven teams who participated in our program won awards – ranging from honorable mention to first place – and all five teams will move on to the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair.
First-year mentor Michelle Hien, an Associate Clinical Trials Manager, believes that working with scientists and professionals onsite at Vertex can help inspire the science fair participants to consider STEAM careers.
“When I was young, I thought the only way to get into a pharmaceutical company was to become a pharmacist – I hadn’t even considered all the other people who help get the medicine to the pharmacist in the first place,” Michelle remembers. “I hope that by being exposed to these roles through working with Vertex mentors, the students were able to see the many different ways they could get involved with science.”
To learn more about our commitment to STEAM learning, take a look at our programs that provide Boston Public School students with opportunities to get involved in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math education.