This spring, a group of high school students from Marshfield presented their own research as part of a scientific conference in San Diego.
At the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) annual meeting, an undergraduate session also included high school SMART (Students Modeling a Research Topic) Teams.
The SMART Team program, led by the Center for BioMolecular Modeling at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, also includes teams from the Milwaukee area, as well as many other U.S. states and at least one Canadian province.
Kids on SMART Teams collaborate to "delve into the molecular world, explore science as a process and not just a collection of facts," and work with a researcher to learn about a protein the researcher studies, the program's website explains.
It was the third time Marshfield High School participated in the conference.
"My students all say it is the hardest thing they have done throughout a rigorous high school career," says the team's coach, Amy Fassler, who teaches Advanced Placement science courses at Marshfield High School. "They really get a feel for how science works — specifically the research process, and the trial, error, and collaboration that go into scientific discovery."
Team member Anna Roselle told the Marshfield News-Herald that learning to read scientific research was incredibly challenging. "We've never had to work at something we don't understand even the basics of at the beginning. It really makes you work."
"They did a remarkable job," their research mentor, Dr. Steven Schrodi of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, told the News-Herald. "They're well on their way to doing great scientific research in the future."
The Marshfield students studied the protein called LCK, or lymphocyte-specific protein tyrosine kinase. The students examined a specific mutation to the protein and its impact on the risk of disorders including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.
To register a SMART Team, teachers have to take a course on "Tactile Teaching with Physical Models," which is full for this summer but already accepting applications for summer of 2015. Within the Milwaukee area, the national organizers take on a larger mentoring role.