Anjel Fierst, a rising junior at Montclair High School, explains the research project in Julian Keenan’s group to Josh Weston, founder and supporter of the Weston Science Scholars. “We have been looking at racism in the brain and how implicit bias acts with social filters. Our current hypothesis is that we are going to use TMS — transcranial magnetic stimulation — to inhibit your medial prefrontal cortex, the social filter of the brain, and we think that it will make you more racist because we’ve looked at other studies and collected research. … But we are also going to expand the study to look at other implicit biases to see if those act the same as racism or if they diverge and if so maybe that leads to further research of where they are in the brain.” (Photo by Mike Peters for Montclair State University)

For the 22nd year, students at Montclair High School recently took part in the Weston Science Scholars, a partnership between Montclair State University and the public school district that gives selected ninth, tenth and returning 11th grade students the opportunity to study science hands-on.

“Math, science and technology are critical to human kind. The program recognizes high-achieving students with significant potential in science, mathematics and related fields,” an announcement provided by Montclair High School science teacher Lynn English, who co-directs the program with fellow teacher Dee Portas, said.

Through the program, 38 students in six cohorts are spending five weeks using the scientific method “to study everything from racism to jellyfish,” the university said in its own announcement of the 2021 program. Topics of research include astrophysics, marine biology, evolutionary/DNA biology, hydrogeology and neuroscience, among others, English’s announcement said.

In addition, the students study a mathematics component of statistics and calculus pertinent to their research, English said. The students presented their results at a colloquium on July 28.

“We’re doing marine biology so we are working on analyzing clinging jellyfish. Today we’re going to be doing an experiment to see if the spider crabs will eat the clinging jellyfish over blue mussels or other predators,” rising sophomore Kaia Hunkins told to Josh Weston, with Estelle Svenson, Asha Giancaspro, Sophia Draxler and Anisa Uddin. Not pictured is Charles Moroze who is procuring the spider crab from a nearby tank. The students are working with Bbology Professor Paul Bologna.
(Photo by Mike Peters for Montclair State University)

The program was founded by former Automatic Data Processing CEO Josh Weston, 93, and his late wife, Judy, with the college and public school district 22 years ago.

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Weston “showed that his enthusiasm for the summer science program remains as high as ever as he peppered this year’s cohort of high school students with questions, hopping among various buildings, laboratories and classrooms on the Montclair State campus to learn about experiments in marine biology, physics, genomic sequencing, cybersecurity, magnetic imaging and more,” the university announcement said.

The mentored laboratory research experience helps teach students what it means to fail and succeed, English said in her announcement of the program.

Students also hear from guest speakers in various aspects of STEM careers. English said field excursions will resume once the Montclair Board of Education approves such activities. School plans for the fall are still evolving because of the ongoing threat of coronavirus transmission.

The students can earn high school credits in science toward graduation if all requirements are met for the program. They also conduct several hours of community service in order to achieve full credit.

This year’s participants are: Ela Algar, Eliza Bender, Christopher Borgen, Elke Brown, Drew Chichester, Emily Dia, Sophia Draxler, Logan Driever, Anjel Fierst, Katrina Gallione, Maya Gerdes, Asha Giancaspro, Lucas Gilson, Mikey Hadley, Kaia Hunkins, Matthew Hymowitz, Harper Keenan, Mert, Kiran, Maxwell Korenbaum, Samuel Korenbaum, Ellen Last, Lauren Loflin, Aline McElwee, Kudus Magistu, Charles Moroze, Tylan Ozkuzey, Namia Palmer, Christina Qiu, Leland Rogers, Joshua Stout, Annabelle Svenson, Estelle Svenson, Elsa Taylor-Lillquist, Alexander Thomas, Anisa Uddin and Ryan Unruh.