Research Apprentices Program offers early start in science

In astronomer Kat Barger’s research group you’ll find the usual mix of undergraduate and graduate students — and one very bright 11-year-old.

“I try to attract diverse students to our lab as much as possible,” she says.

Cannan Huey-You, 11, explains what’s happening to a massive gas cloud called Complex A at a meeting in January of professional astronomers.
(American Astronomical Society)

Cannan Huey-You, a high school senior, is the youngest of more than a dozen high school students who participate in the Research Apprentices Program, which offers young students the opportunity to work on cutting-edge scientific research at TCU.

Begun in 2005 by Yuri Strzhemechny, associate professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Research Apprentices Program matches high school sophomores, juniors and seniors with TCU research groups in physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology.

“High school students start with relatively simple tasks in the lab, but as they learn, they get more involved,” says Strzhemechny, who has worked with more than 20 students since the program’s inception. “It’s a pretty quick transformation. Within a couple of months, you can see that the student has become really research-minded.”

The program accepts any high school student with an interest in science, an ability to work in a team, a readiness to learn new skills and a commitment to research.

“We give our high school students quality research projects, things that could be published,” says Barger. “But it’s less about creating a final project and more about just learning, whether it’s coding or working with data.”

Participating students often co-author journal papers, present at scientific conferences, compete in national science competitions — and boost their college admission and scholarship credentials. More importantly, they learn what it takes to do science.

“Research is not a linear process,” says Strzhemechny. “It’s stop-and-go. It’s going back to re-think your approaches. You have to be continuously pondering about how to solve a problem, how to meet a goal. That’s what it takes to be a scientist. Not every high school student knows this, but when they come into the lab, they see it.”

“We’re producing not just scientific achievements,” he says, “but scientists.”

Read more in Sky & Telescope.