Summer School demystifies science


19 August 2009 Summer School demystifies science From astrophysics to antibiotics there is no challenge too big, or too small, for the 18 gifted students from 11 countries whom World ORT has brought together at the Weizmann Institute of Science for this years Raya Cowan International Science Summer School. This, the third such Summer School, has brought together 10 boys and eight girls from Israel, Russia, Lithuania, Italy, Moldova, Mexico, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Argentina, Chile and Brazil. The teenagers were selected through a series of comprehensive tests and personal interviews from a list of 90 nominated by local ORT professionals for the three-week combination of advanced scientific study and meaningful cultural exploration. The Summer School students on their first day at the Weizmann Institute. Split into groups of two or three, the students have pursued projects ranging from the investigation of the transient absorption of the bacteriochlorophyll derivative, zinc bacteriochlorophylide, in methanol to the dynamics surrounding black holes. And they have strengthened their connection to Israel through a series of tours from Jerusalem to the Golan Heights. At the end of the Summer School, this week, each student will prepare a detailed written research report as well as share their findings with the rest of the participants in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. They will also prepare a report on their activities and present it to their peers at school. We have created a particularly good group this year, said World ORT Research and Development Coordinator Dr Yakov Ronkin. Academically they are very, very strong. Dr Ronkins assessment was shared by doctoral student Omer Korech who has been mentoring three students in their introduction to interferometry, the technique of diagnosing the properties of two or more lasers or waves by studying the pattern of interference created by their superposition. It is used as an investigative technique in a range of fields from astronomy to oceanography. This material was way beyond the scope of their formal studies, Mr Korech said. I was talking to them about electro-magnetic radiation and lasers which is all very abstract physics that they havent dealt with before. The fact that they managed to complete the tasks I set them showed they had understood the material well. I was very impressed by this. I think there are definitely some future scientists among these kids. I havent met such intelligent students of this age; some of them are really outstandingly brilliant. His students were thrilled by the challenge of learning something new in such an inspiring environment. Yuri Kirillov, from Moldova, said: I would like to be able to tell you what has been the best thing here at the Summer School but there have been so many best things! I love having the opportunity to see so many places in Israel, the research is very interesting, and Ive made many new friends from all over the world. But what has been really special has been working with such advanced lasers. I dont know whether I will ever again have the opportunity to do research using equipment such as this. And Francesca Hasbani-Kermanchahi, from Italy, added: I really like it here the academic level is high and they have chosen a good research project for us to do. The Summer School is a great mixture of fun and work. But what is important is that when we work, we work seriously. What is best about this is that I have the opportunity to check whether I will be any good as a scientist or whether I will have to think about doing something else in the future. This Summer School has been Mr Korechs first experience as a mentor to teenage students and he has both enjoyed and learned from the encounter. He said the Summer School was a great way for talented students to have a taste of advanced science. I also think this has been very good for developing the students intelligence, he said. Here, every day they encounter something new which stimulates their mind and helps their development. And he felt that the accounts of the research that the students will share with their peers on returning to their respective schools will motivate other students to pursue scientific study. It helps young people to see science through the point of view of another student, he said. Dr Matthew Belousoff, who has been mentoring two students in the investigation of how antibiotics inhibit ribosomes, the cell components which synthesise proteins, agrees. The more you educate kids that science can be fun and exciting they will pass that on to their friends when they get home and tell them about what they did here, Dr Belousoff said. I think more people dont go into science because they dont really know what its about or they are terrified by what they think is something very complicated. But once you get into a laboratory you see it for what it is a fun human endeavour. So the Summer School can help to demystify science. One of Dr Belousoffs students, Clara Gomes, from Brazil, said she loved the research project. My favourite area of biology is working with cells and chromosomes so this is a great match for me, she said. Her research partner, Ariel Markiewitz, from Chile, added: I love coming to the lab. I really like biology and I especially like to learn how systems work. I never thought our part of the research would be so hands-on its much more than I expected. But the Summer School has not been spent entirely in laboratories. Led by their madrich, Idan Ianovici, the students spent Shabbat in Jerusalem, visited Yad Vashem and the military cemetery at Mount Herzl, went kayaking in northern Israel, and took part in various social activities. For some of these kids it was their first time in Israel, Mr Ianovici said. They have heard about the country through the media and from friends and relatives but now they have got to see it with their own eyes. It has given them the appetite to come again. The tours did not only educate the visitors; the Israeli students, too, learned to appreciate their country in new ways. The best bit of Summer School has been the trip to Jerusalem, said Mattan Becker, a student at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School in the Galilee. Even though Im Israeli, its the longest time Ive ever spent there and I saw places that I never saw before. The guide was very explicit because he was explaining things to people from abroad so it was very interesting and easy to understand. World ORT Director General and CEO, Robert Singer, said the students should be prized as the next generation of Jewish genius. More than one-fifth of the Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2008 have gone to Jews and yet we make up only 0.25 per cent of the worlds population. This disproportionate contribution to global civilisation does not happen by accident; talent has to be nurtured and programmes like this Summer School do just that. I applaud the courage of the kids themselves for their commitment to their studies and for their courage to aim for the stars, Mr Singer said. World ORTs Raya Cowan International Science Summer School has been made possible thanks to a donation of more than $300,000 to ORT America from the estate of Raya Cowan, a Polish refugee who became a US citizen in 1946.