High School Students Help Solve Problems

Posted on April 29, 2015 by  
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Homestead High School junior Maya Dhar, a Los Altos resident, left, and classmate Carolyn MacDonald support the school’s AP Environmental Science classes at the Arbor Day Festival April 23.As summer approaches, hope for more rainfall to relieve the drought dwindles and the effects of climate change become glaringly obvious – and students in Homestead High School’s AP Environmental Science (APES) classes aim to do something about it.

For the sixth consecutive year, students in Homestead’s APES classes are conducting a four-month project titled “Your World,” which requires them to identify an environmental problem in their community and take action to propose a solution.

“I think the APES project has a good purpose, because the class gets to apply what they have learned to their own community,” said Los Altos resident Karen Thornton, a sixth-period APES student.

The idea for “Your World” originated from an AP conference that APES teacher Richard Carmona attended in 2009. Carmona has his students take the information they learn in class and apply it to the real world to solve an environmental problem close to home.

“Students identify an environmental issue that they see in their community, determine a course of action to solve the problem and enact their vision,” he said.

Each class resembles a company; the class chooses a company name and conducts its actions as a company. Students elect a CEO and form action teams that focus on marketing, research and development and public relations.

Students in the company collaborate to present a three- to five-minute pitch to a board of executives comprised of environmentalist and other activists in the community.

Just as companies within the same industries compete in the real world, Carmona’s three APES classes vie against one another to create the best vision – and most effective implementation of that idea – for a more environmentally friendly community. The board chooses the winner in May.

Urban ForestStudents in Carmona’s sixth-period APES class named their company Project Sprout. They are taking on the problem of deforestation and ways to conserve paper.

The action team, which includes Thornton, organized a Homestead Arbor Day Festival April 23. The goal of the festival was to provide students and adults with information on ways to save trees as they participated in fun activities, according to Thornton.

The class next plans to partner with the San Jose-based nonprofit Our City Forest to plant trees in Homestead’s newly reconstructed quad to make the school more eco-friendly.

The research team – which includes Los Altos resident Dylan Remahl – plans to calculate the amount of paper waste at Homestead and determine how it could be reduced if all the teachers used Turnitin.com, a website that allows students to submit their work online and detects plagiarism.

Two years ago, an APES class advocated for an anti-Styrofoam initiative in Sunnyvale and Cupertino in an effort to prevent restaurants from distributing food in Styrofoam take-out boxes.

At the end of the four-month project, students presented their idea to the Cupertino City Council. Their presentation contributed to the council’s decision to ban Styrofoam on the county level in 2014, according to Carmona.

“It shows the importance of the project because a class’s small actions led to a real solution in their community,” he added.

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Electron Microscope Opens New World

Posted on March 18, 2015 by  
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Biology Honors instructor assists studentStudents at Los Altos High School can now examine objects in a completely new way with the addition of an electron microscope to the school’s science department.

The electron microscope is capable of much higher magnification compared with the typical science classroom’s light microscope. The new device can magnify an object 20,000 times, while the light microscope can only increase it 400 times.

“This is a cutting-edge way to do observation,” said Greg Stoehr, head of the science department at Los Altos High. “It is allowing students to have a college-level experience in a public high school.”

Another perk of the equipment, Stoehr said, is that it is easy enough for anyone to use. An electron microscope typically requires a technician.

Stoehr said students in all science classes are using the microscope. Students in the forensics class can examine hair fibers, biology students can observe leaf structures and physics students can view the texture of an object and determine how it affects momentum.

“It’s a universal tool,” he said. “Most of the instruments we purchase for the school are class or subject based. But this microscope can be used in all classes.”

Light microscopes, the prevailing equipment used in most high school classrooms, are a “400-year-old technology,” said Stoehr, adding that they help magnify objects that are very small, “but you can’t distinguish them well.”

“The electron microscope allows students to look at things that they cannot get from a light microscope,” he said. “It opens up a new visual world for the students.”

The electron microscope is connected to a computer, enabling students to capture digitally the magnified objects. Mastering the microscope takes five minutes, Stoehr said.

Of the $1.5 million grant the foundation raised for the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District last year, approximately 40 percent is tagged for discretionary spending. Funding for science program upgrades came from those funds, Roberts said.

In addition to providing students with a college-level experience, the new tools are preparing them for the next level of research and innovation, according to Stoehr.

“We are striving to give students the foundation support for a strong science background,” he said.

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Two Local Intel Science Talent Finalist

Posted on February 5, 2015 by  
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Steven Wang, left, and Rohith KuditipudiTwo Harker School seniors, Rohith Kuditipudi of Los Altos and Steven Wang of Los Altos Hills, last month reached the finalist stage of the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search.

Kuditipudi and Wang join 40 other high school students from across the United States who will gather in Washington, D.C., in March for the final phase of the competition, with more than $1 million in cash prizes at stake.

While in D.C., the finalists will demonstrate their research before national leaders and key figures in the scientific community. Winners will be announced at an invitation-only gala at the National Building Museum March 10.

Kuditipudi and Wang worked with mentors in the science field on their research, outside their regular school curriculum. Talent Search officials honored Kuditipudi for his work on “Network Based Integration of High-Throughput Gene Expression and Methylation Data Reveals New Insights into NAFLD Progression” and Wang for research on “Computer-Aided Genomic Characterization of Colorectal Cancer Driver Alterations for Oncogenic Transformation of Primary Colon Organoids.”

Kuditipudi said he was originally drawn to the field of bioinformatics/systems biology because he thought it was an area where he “could have a real impact on the world.” For his ongoing project, he works with professionals at UC San Diego and from home when possible.

Wang’s research centered on the computational analysis of large public databases, such as The Cancer Genome Project and the Gene Expression Omnibus, to discover alterations that may drive the progression of colorectal cancer.

“Through a multidimensional analysis of multiple data types over around 600 cancer samples, I discovered new driver genes that could contribute to the initiation of colorectal tumors,” Wang wrote in an email to the Town Crier. “I then tested two of these alterations in an innovative ‘mini-organ’ system called the ‘organoid’ model to test their cancer proliferation potential.”

Wang collaborated with mentors at Stanford University, working full time on weekends and when not in school.

The Intel Science Talent Search, a program of the Society for Science & the Public, is among the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science competitions. Alumni have made important contributions to science and hold more than 100 of the world’s most-coveted science and math honors, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science.

For more information, visit student.societyforscience.org/intel-sts.

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Preparing Local Students For STEM Careers

Posted on August 17, 2014 by  
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STEM Summer CampFrom designing roller coasters to developing biodegradable plastics, high school students received an introduction to an array of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at STEM Summer Camps at Foothill College. The camps, featuring hands-on and experiential lessons, concluded last week on the Los Altos Hills campus.

Free for students, the annual camps proved to be in high demand. This year’s program enrolled more than four times as many students as last year’s – from 90 to 480 – with an additional 1,000 on the waiting list.

Organizers added two classes for middle school students to pique students’ interest in STEM at an even earlier age, according to organizers. The camps are only one piece of a program Foothill College offers via its Science Learning Institute (SLI).

Under the SLI umbrella, the college is undertaking a major push to increase STEM literacy and its number of STEM graduates by engaging the large and untapped talent pool of female and underrepresented students. Over the four weeks of camps, students could select from several classes – including 3D Printing, Robotics, Biomedical Engineering, Biotechnology, Forensic Technology, Understand Your Health, Astronomy, Nanotechnology, Green Chemistry, Amusement Park Physics, Build Your Own Radio, Build an App and Video Game Design.

For more information, visit foothill.edu/sli/STEM_summer_camps.html.

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