• Kevin Sheridan of Lexington High explains his research on how recycled materials can be used for housing insulation.

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Mass. high-schoolers win trip to national science fair


Students from Revere High School, North Attleborough High School and Lexington High School will represent Massachusetts at the American Junior Academy of Sciences (AJAS) annual convention in Seattle Feb. 11-15.

The three students were chosen (two as a tie in biology, one as a winner in math, engineering and behavioral sciences) from 12 who had won first place at the 2003 Massachusetts State Science Fair held at MIT in May. The 12 science fair winners were back on campus Saturday to present their work to panels of judges.

Herbert Hedberg of North Attleborough High, whose project is "an efficient, functional telomerase activity assay,"and Susan Pedicini of Revere, who did an analysis of cutin production in pine needles after treatment with coral calcium, tied for biology. In the math, engineering and behavioral science category, the winner was Kevin Sheridan of Lexington High, who explored the use of recycled materials for insulation in housing construction in developing countries.

The students competed to represent the state of Massachusetts at the 2004 American Junior Academy of Sciences (AJAS) annual convention. AJAS is an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Their annual meetings are held at the same time, providing student delegates an unparalleled opportunity to meet and interact with professional scientists in many scientific disciplines. All student delegates give a poster presentation and an oral presentation.

The next step is to secure funding for the students to travel to the AAAS meeting. Because the judges felt that all the students were outstanding, the goal is to send as many students as possible to the meeting, in addition to the three winners.

"This is the first time that such an event is taking place," said Mandana Sassanfar, instructor in biology and science outreach coordinator for the department. "It is to ensure that talented Massachusetts high school students who produce outstanding science projects have the same opportunity as students from other states to attend the American Junior Academy of Sciences convention." Sassanfar is acting director of the Massachusetts Junior Academy of Science. The mission of the academies of science is to encourage pre-college students to pursue activities and research in science, engineering and technology.

At the MIT event, the students each gave a 12-minute oral presentation before one of two four-judge panels. The event is organized by Sassanfar and Graham C. Walker, professor of biology, American Cancer Society research professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professor. Walker also is director of the HHMI undergraduate education program at MIT, which provides major funding for undergraduate research experiences.

As HHMI professor, Walker and his HHMI education group are investigating ways of increasing the appeal of science to students early in their education by developing new curricular materials and new teaching tools for introductory college biology courses and high school biology, and new science activities with area high schools.

As the acting director of the Massachusetts Junior Academy of Science, Sassanfar, a member of the HHMI education group, selects students delegates who will represent Massachusetts at the AAAS annual meeting, which will be held in Seattle in 2004.

This will be the second year that Massachusetts will be represented at the AJAS annual convention. Last year, seven Massachusetts students represented the state at the AJAS/AAAS meeting in Denver.


Topics: Cambridge, Boston and region, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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