LLE Summer High School Student Contributes to High School Living Environment Curriculum
In a darkened room Katie Kopp shows her visitors examples of the complex molecular and cellular structures just beneath the surface of everything from paper towels to flower petals and human organs. The Victor High School senior is clearly excited about MUSE (microscopy with ultraviolet surface excitation)—the new microscope technology she used at LLE last summer. Kopp is helping make it possible for high school students to share her enthusiasm in their own classrooms.
“MUSE is rapid, it’s inexpensive, and it’s very easy to adapt, so I’ve developed a high school curriculum for it,” says Kopp, one of 13 Rochester-area high school students who participated in LLE’s annual Summer High School Research Program. Specifically, she created five lab exercises that meet the standards of the New York State Regents Living Environment Curriculum.
MUSE uses a normal tube and objective microscope with camera attached. It directs ultraviolet light from a separate LED (light-emitting diode) at an oblique angle to the sample. At 240- to 290-nm wavelengths, the ultraviolet light penetrates the sample up to 10 µm; roughly the thickness of a typical premade, pre-stained slide sample. This generates fluorescence a few micrometers below the surface, making it easy to view or capture images of tissue microstructure. This can be further enhanced with a brief application of nontoxic fluorescent dyes to selectively highlight cellular compartments. “You don’t need to go through the process of sectioning and slide preparation, which is costly and labor intensive,” says Kopp.
Kopp’s mentor for the project, Stavros Demos, an LLE senior scientist, says the new technology stemmed from efforts to find defects in optical materials damaged by the big lasers used at LLE, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and other labs conducting fusion experiments. “You’re developing this diagnostic tool and realize this could be used for something else to benefit education or medicine,” Demos says.
Chin Huang ’18, a biomedical engineering student who is now pursuing a Master’s degree at Cornell, worked with Demos to adapt the technology for classrooms, resulting in a paper in the Journal of Biomedical Optics. With a few more refinements, MUSE will soon be ready for use in high schools.
Kopp brims with enthusiasm about participating in the LLE summer research program. “In high school we had little experience with microscopy. We used premade, pre-stained slides, and our teacher needed to perform almost half the focusing for students. So I appreciated the independence to explore, play on my own, and find out what works best.” She also enjoyed the atmosphere at LLE. “It’s intellectual, but congenial and open.” A highlight was witnessing an OMEGA laser shot, conducted for an MIT scientist performing an experiment related to inertial confinement fusion. “Watching them develop the film was fascinating,” Kopp says.
Kopp is not sure which college she will attend since she has many interests, which include medicine, biology, physics, and calculus. But after her experience at LLE, she definitely wants to focus on research. “Taking advantage of the resources available at LLE, benefiting from the kind and open atmosphere of the staff, and attending different seminars every week is terrific. LLE is all about teaching and learning. I want that kind of education,” remarks Kopp.
About the Program
LLE’s Summer High School Research Program, which started in 1989, provides students with a realistic research experience in science and technology and seeks to instill in the students an enthusiasm about scientific and technical careers. A total of 377 Rochester-area high school students have participated in the eight-week program. Students accepted into the program are assigned to a research project and supervised by an LLE staff scientist. Usually, the projects form an integral part of the research program of the Laboratory and are related to the Laboratory’s 60-beam OMEGA laser and the four-beam OMEGA EP laser.
Students present the results of their projects at a symposium at LLE to an audience including parents, teachers, and LLE staff. These culminating presentations “encourage many of them to open up and learn how to speak with adults and communicate at a level that isn’t seen in high school,” says Penfield High School math teacher and New York State master teacher, Jennifer Vibber, who was presented with the 22nd Annual William D. Ryan Inspirational Teacher award at the 2018 symposium. The students also produce written project reports. They work 40-hour weeks and are paid. Students working at LLE have made up the large majority of Rochester-area Science Talent Search scholars honored during the past three decades. A total of 38 students from the LLE program have now become scholars. “Our program provides a unique educational opportunity for talented high school students. They’re amazingly motivated, and it’s exciting to see them recognized as among the best in the nation,” says Stephen Craxton, LLE physicist and director of the summer program.
Several of Vibber’s high school students have participated in the program during the last ten years. “Overall, I find that most students who work at LLE come out of it knowing that they’ve done things that most adults will never get to experience,” says Vibber. “They use math and science in astonishing ways and surprise even themselves with what they’re able to explore and accomplish.” One of Vibber’s former students, now a chemistry undergraduate at Yale, still works at LLE during the summers on experiments being carried out at the National Ignition Facility, and has co-authored several publications based on these experiments.
Application materials for LLE’s summer program are sent to area high schools and are available on the LLE website in early February, or can be obtained directly by calling Jean Steve at (585) 275-9517. For more information about the program itself, please contact Stephen Craxton at (585) 275-5467.