Teens conduct scientific research at N.H. Academy of Science.
For students looking to spend more time in a lab and gain research experience, check out the after-school and summer programs offered at the New Hampshire Academy of Science.
With two locations — a STEM outreach center in Lyme and a satellite lab at Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vermont — NHAS supports the scientific research of high school and middle school students and presents it to the broader scientific and local community. According to current and former participants, the programs have been nothing short of transformational.
“The research I’ve been working on is really meaningful to me, and I enjoy doing it,” said Molly DellaValla, a high school junior from Jackson.
She contrasted her experiences in NHAS programs with those in various science classes at school.
“I get to come up with my own methods and ideas (at NHAS),” she explained. “If something doesn’t work, it’s up to me to fix it, or it just won’t get done. I feel a level of independence that I’ve never had anywhere else.”
Her initial foray into NHAS began before she entered the eighth grade with two one-week summer camps, Introduction to Scientific Research and Beginning Computer Coding for Big Data.
“Introduction to Scientific Research was an introduction to the lab where I first saw equipment, specimens, and techniques,” said DellaValla. “Everything was new to me, and that was really cool.”
She described Beginning Computer Coding for Big Data as “also very interesting.”
“It exposed me to data processing techniques that I had never seen before,” she added.
For former participant Saia Patel, who recently graduated high school and is attending college this fall, NHAS is noteworthy in the level of education it provides students.
“Essentially, (students) are performing college or grad school level scientific projects to which most people do not have access,” she said. “NHAS extends what they learn about at each stage of the programs … By the end, they write their own scientific papers.”
Patel’s involvement at NHAS extended beyond that of mere participation, however, as she also served as assistant scientist. In this role, she helped with lab work, offered expertise with social media and marketing, and supported kids in the lab.
“In terms of guiding the kids, I liked seeing all the enthusiasm they had for science,” she said. “It is kind of admirable that they show up every day with a smile on their face and learn how to be effective as research scientists and are having fun with everyone at the same time.”
When discussing the impact of NHAS programs, Patel said the skills she has learned are irreplaceable.
“It is extremely valuable to know how to research and document something from start to finish,” she said.
Aside from developing research skills, Patel said NHAS participants also learn from guest speakers who demonstrate the importance of effective scientific communication.
“Students learn how to talk to someone about their project regardless of the audiences’ level of knowledge on the topic,” she said. “They learn how to effectively communicate either written or orally.”
Noting she is homeschooled, DellaValla said she appreciates NHAS’s flexibility in allowing her to complete much of her work remotely and asynchronously with in-person work as needed.
“The NHAS has lent me supplies like a microscope and a 3D printer so I could effectively set up a lab at home,” she said. “This has given me access to resources unlike anything available to me locally.”
In the future, Patel envisions herself working somewhere in the intersection of science and policy.
“It is an interesting field that is overlooked, and I think I could really make an impact there,” she said. “We need people who know both sides of the coin and portrait realistic expectations to the public. I also hope to go to law school for environmental law or patent law as well.”
In considering her future goals, DellaValla said her experience at NHAS has helped her narrow her focus to something STEM-related.
“NHAS has given me an understanding of what it’s like to really work in a lab and what I might do on a day-to-day basis if I became a researcher,” she said. “It has also shown me about other options for STEM careers like teaching, medicine, or industry … A lot of the time, I don’t feel like we get that kind of exposure in our classes.”
NHAS origin story and offerings
According to its website, the New Hampshire Academy of Science was founded in 1919 as an affiliate organization of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. NHAS became a nonprofit charitable organization in 2016. New Hampshire is one of 45 states that have an Academy of Science with more than 125,000 members collectively.
All branches of science are put to use by students using NHAS’s STEM Lab, which is equipped with a wide array of advanced scientific instruments. Lab instructors are experts in their STEM fields.
After-school programs are offered in two sessions for students in grades 6-12: the first session is Sept. 28 through Dec. 22, and the second session is Jan. 25 through April 27.
Summer programs are offered in both three-week and one-week sessions. Registration for those have closed as the season has passed, but interested students can learn more about the summer agenda by visiting the academy’s website.
NHAS operates an Equipment Loan Library to lend equipment, along with supplies and support, to teachers and their students in New Hampshire and Vermont.
To learn more about NHAS, visit nhacadsci.org.