2023 Labs and Research

Research Academy Format

Each camp is divided into two sessions: AM Laboratories and PM Research. Morning labs are designed for grades 9 - 12 and groups of fifteen students rotate through four core STEM subjects. Afternoon research is designed specifically for grades 11 - 12. These students work closely with faculty to perform a two-week research project that culminates in a poster and presentation competition at our end of camp symposium. Our 2023 labs and research projects are listed below.

AM Laboratories

Laboratory 1

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: San Antonio

Forensic science is the application of science to investigate crimes or examine evidence that could be presented in a court of law. Forensic science draws from procedures from the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and engineering. To begin with, students will perform a series of chemical tests that will provide clarification to the student of the difference between forensic chemistry and forensic toxicology. Students will perform tests on drugs and poisons as well as identify heavy metal poisoning using chromatography. Finally, students will investigate a crime scene by which they will examine a biological sample obtained at the crime scene - DNA. Through restriction enzyme digest, students will determine ‘whodunnnit” by identifying which of the suspects presented indeed committed the dastardly crime.

Laboratory 2

"More than just a Pizza Topping”: Investigating Mushrooms as Biofuels

World-wide, there has been an increase of calls by both governmental, private industry, and the general population to encourage the exploration and use of clean energy sources. Therefore, scientists have once again looked towards the natural world to provide information, possibilities and development of products that may address this issue. One area that is being investigated is the use of Eukaryotic microorganisms, such as Fungi. In the last century Fungal along with other prokaryotes provided antimicrobial compounds who have previously benefited human kind by their production of antibiotics. In this laboratory, student pairs will assess various species of Basidiomycota-mushrooms to assess their ability to produce enzymes that aid in the conversion of cellobiose to biobutanol, a liquid fuel that can directly replace gasoline in engines. This laboratory will afford the students flexibility to develop their own scientific hypothesis, conduct original research to test that hypothesis and obtain data which will address the validity of their hypothesis using spectral analysis of enzyme kinetics.

Biochemistry: Proteins

Chemical processes are fundamental to life. Students will explore some of the important techniques of Biochemistry, which allow us to develop an understanding of how life works. Once we understand the processes in the body at a chemical level, we can develop strategies for intervening when something goes wrong (that is a disease state).

A key category of biochemical molecules is the protein. These fascinating molecules are made up of a long chain of amino acids to make a biochemical polymer. Proteins provide many different functions in the body such as structural (Keratin in hair and fingernails), contractile (Myosin and Actin in muscle fibers, transport (Hemoglobin providing oxygen transport in blood) and more. By changing the order and composition of the amino acids that are connected in a long chain, we can get strikingly different properties and functions.

We will start with learning biochemical techniques to manipulate solutions and analyze their contents. You will develop skills with micropipettors, which will allow the dispensing of microliters of solution. That is one millionth of a liter. Once skilled in these techniques you will perform a BCA Assay for total protein content. This assay which is commonly used in the biochemistry lab, measures the total amount of protein in a sample. You will develop a standard absorbance curve with known concentrations so that you can determine the concentration of an unknown protein. You will make these measurements on an advanced biochemical instrument, a multi-well plate reader that measures absorbance of light.


Python Bootcamp

Unleash the Power of Code this summer 2023! Experience a thrilling journey from being a novice to a budding Python programming wizard at our High School Bootcamp. We've carefully crafted a dynamic and immersive program, specifically designed to ignite the potential within your young innovator.

Step into the electrifying world of Python, a language at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and innovation. Our expert-led sessions will not just introduce students to this versatile coding language but equip them with the confidence and prowess to create, debug and innovate.

But that's not all! What better way to solidify these newly acquired skills than by applying them in the adrenaline-fueled universe of Minecraft? This world-renowned sandbox game provides the perfect digital canvas for students to experiment, build and play while bringing their wildest imaginations to life. Under our guidance, they will develop astounding constructs in Minecraft, using Python as their magical tool.

Our Summer 2023 Bootcamp promises to be an exhilarating ride full of discovery and achievement. We're not just teaching Python; we're empowering future leaders to unlock their creative genius through the power of code. Are you ready to begin this incredible adventure? Let's dive in together this summer!

Seeing is Believing

Join us on an interactive journey from our place in the universe to the outer reaches of space and time! We'll begin by exploring our home, the Earth, and its position in the dynamic and exciting solar system. This exploration includes our sun, the planets, moons, asteroids, dwarf planets, comets and many more celestial bodies.

We'll delve into the life cycles of stars, these awe-inspiring building blocks of the universe. We'll see how stars are born, live and often die in dramatic fashion!

Next, we'll embark on an adventure into the realm of exoplanets. Since the first exoplanet's discovery in the 1990's, we've found over five thousand planets orbiting stars other than our sun, some familiar and some quite exotic! We'll also journey through the universe's galaxies, including our very own Milky Way, which is home to at least 100 billion stars. The variety of galaxies is truly a cosmic zoo!

From galaxies, we'll move to cosmology, studying the origin, evolution and fate of the universe. This includes exciting discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope, which continues to challenge our understanding of the universe.

Lastly, we'll explore life as we know it, discussing how life formed on Earth and where it might exist elsewhere in the universe.

Throughout our journey, we'll also discuss light, telescopes both ground and space-based, space weather and exotic phenomena such as gravitational waves and black holes. Prepare for an astronomical adventure!

PM Research

Repurposing HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) for the treatment of Candida albicans biofilm-associated infections

Candida albicans, while a common inhabitant of the human microbiota, represents an increasing health threat to immune and medically compromised individuals. As an opportunistic fungal pathogen, C. albicans is capable of causing disease ranging from superficial to life-threatening systemic candidiasis. The seriousness of candida infections is heightened due to the lack of antifungal drugs available, particularly against the biofilm mode of growth. C. albicans biofilms are complex microbial communities that form on the surfaces of host tissues and implanted biomaterials.

Candida biofilms are clinically relevant as they are more resistant to antifungal drugs and host immune defenses. The purpose of this project is to repurpose statins, HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors used to lower LDL cholesterol, in effort to address the urgent need of developing new treatment strategies targeting drug-resistant C. albicans biofilms. Students will perform antifungal susceptibility assays to characterize the effects of four statins on C. albicans biofilm growth and a determine the efficacy of the statins using the Galleria mellonella (wax moth) larvae model of candidiasis.

Techniques for Wildlife Management and Telemetry

As wildlife becomes more and more integrated with populations of people, it also becomes important to be able to observe and manage said wildlife. “What species should farms avoid interfering with to keep pest populations under control?” and “How are reintroduction efforts affecting other local populations?” are just some of the questions that proper wildlife management answers.

Being able to accurately give information about wildlife conditions affects many other fields, including development of new buildings, as well as food production. These should not be overlooked. To help with keeping organized data, tracking technology, like telemetry, is essential to ensure that wildlife populations can be monitored for long term prospects.

Over the course of this project, we will utilize data collection equipment, including wildlife cameras and telemetry antennae, to obtain real life data. The various ways that this equipment is utilized and how to interpret the collected data will be discussed. There is even the possibility that our findings could be applied in future management decisions in the area.

Copper phenanthroline complexes as efficient catalysts for oxidation of alcohols

The project focuses on utilizing copper phenanthroline complexes as efficient catalysts for the oxidation of alcohols. Alcohol oxidation is a chemical reaction that removes hydrogen atoms from an alcohol molecule, forming aldehydes, ketones or carboxylic acids. The oxidation of alcohols requires a catalyst to lower the activation energy needed for the reaction to occur. This reaction is essential in many chemical processes, including producing fragrances, flavors and pharmaceuticals.

The project involves the synthesis of copper phenanthroline complexes, characterizing their properties, and their application as catalysts for the oxidation of alcohols. The reaction conditions, such as temperature, pressure and reactant concentration, will be optimized to achieve the best results. The successful implementation of copper phenanthroline complexes could lead to more sustainable and efficient processes for producing valuable chemicals.

Students involved in this project will gain experience in synthesizing copper phenanthroline complexes through techniques such as refluxing, column chromatography and recrystallization. They will also learn how to characterize the properties of the complexes using spectroscopic methods, including UV-Vis, IR and NMR spectroscopy, and will develop skills in the use of analytical techniques such as gas chromatography (GC) and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) for analyzing the reaction products' purity and yield.

Decoding Maya Blue: Synthesis, Characterization and Insights into an Ancient Nanocomposite

"Decoding Maya Blue" participants will delve into the rich history and chemistry behind the enigmatic Maya Blue pigment. This ancient nanocomposite, revered for its durability and vibrant hue, offers a unique opportunity to study the intersection of materials science and cultural heritage. Students will engage in the synthesis of Maya Blue, combining indigo dye with palygorskite clay, replicating a process that dates back to the Maya civilization.

Through the utilization of advanced characterization techniques, participants will investigate the structural, morphological and optical properties of this fascinating pigment. The project aims to deepen the understanding of the underlying principles that contribute to Maya Blue's exceptional stability, while also exploring its potential applications in modern materials science and technology.

Project Sunlight: Multi-sensor Smart Home Automation and Security System Design Using MicroBit Platform

In the Engineering Research section of the camp, the students will have the opportunity to study the basic concepts of electrical, mechanical and software engineering through various hands-on projects by using Micro Bit electronic prototyping platform.

The objectives of the Engineering Research section are:

1. To learn how to program electronics using Micro Bit boards, which consists of a programmable microcontroller for building digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical world. The coding experience on the Micro Bit will be based on MicroPython, in which students are able to write Python scripts that are then combined with the MicroPython firmware and uploaded to the device.

2. To explore fun real-world challenges by developing engineering problem-solving skills through creativity and teamwork. The main goal of the Engineering Research section is to inspire the students to become more skilled in scientific and technical communication, effective collaboration and data analytics, which will help prepare them for future success in higher levels of schooling and in the workplace.

The Limitless Possibilities of a Robotic Arm

Prepare for a journey into the world of robotics with the Arduino Braccio++, a robotic arm designed for advanced learning in engineering schools, university institutes of technology, and for high school and college students studying the sciences, industrial science or technology.

This versatile robotic arm can be assembled in multiple ways for a variety of tasks, such as moving objects, mounting a camera to track movements, or attaching a solar panel to follow the sun's path. The possibilities are nearly limitless!

As we assemble and program the Braccio++, we'll delve into real-life applications of physical concepts such as motion, forces, torque, gear ratios, stability and payload weight. Each action - lifting, placing, rotating - becomes a practical lesson.

But we won't stop at building. We'll learn to program the Braccio++ for any task we can imagine, bringing our robotics experience to life!

The Arduino Braccio++ provides an expansive array of possibilities right from the start. It comes with a new Braccio Carrier with LCD screen, RS485 servo motors, joystick, buttons and intelligent motors. We'll cover topics like kinematics, dynamics and control, and also delve into computer-integrated manufacturing.

With the Arduino Braccio++, we're not just playing with motors; we're engaging with intelligent Arduino smart servo motors. These motors, receive commands from the Arduino microcontroller (a tiny computer) and transmit data back and forth, offering bi-directional communication to support just about any task you can imagine. This project truly is a step into the future of robotics!