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Students Spend Summer As MIT Scholars

Christen McCluney, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

WASHINGTON - 09.22.2009

While other high school students spent the summer working and spending time with friends, three Defense Department students ratcheted up their education at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology program.

Husain Mogri, from Bahrain American School; Derrick Lewis, from Ramstein High School; and Shannon Grammel, from Heidelberg American High School, spent their time working under the mentorship of eminent scientists and researchers as part of the 2009 Research Science Institute at MIT.

The three Department of Defense Education Activity students were selected to participate in the six-week program sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education. As part of the program, the students attend college-level classes taught by distinguished professors; work with scientists, mathematicians and engineers; and complete hands-on research with professionals at corporations, universities and research organizations.

The students shared their experience in a Sept. 16 interview on "Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military" on Pentagon Web Radio.

Shannon shared the basic experience of the students who lived on the MIT campus, which included a week of classes as a group and individual classes. Students then were matched up with mentors for four weeks. The program culminated with a presentation of the research.

Shannon's presentation, "Ejection Behavior of Hypervelocity Stars in the Presence of Sagittarius A* and the Milky Way Potential," focused on hypervelocity stars -- those with velocity so great that they escape the gravitational pull of the galaxy. She used computer programs to simulate star behavior, matching it with observations of 20 real stars. She placed in the top five of best final presentations.

Husain conducted organic chemistry research under the guidance of graduate students at Boston College. The goal of his project, "The Synthesis of Bicyclo [3,2,1] octan-2-one," was to develop new methods that could improve the speed and efficiency of chemical reactions.

Going into the program Husain had no experience in organic chemistry. "I wanted to try something new that I had not been exposed to in school," he said.

He was able to jump into lab work after only five days of tutorials.

Derrick conducted experiments involving computer modeling of the human voice. The goal of his project was to mimic the human voice and identify certain characteristics that could provide information about the speaker, including physiology, emotional state or body shape. This work ultimately could impact voice recognition technologies used in security systems.

Each student faced challenges while working on their projects. Because he went into his project with very little experience, Husain said, he had to pay close attention to details.

"It was truly different from what I've experienced in school," where sample sizes are much larger and there is more room for mistakes, Husain said. "It's amazing that so much work over so much time was given to such little amount of substance."

This program was Shannon's first experience in astrophysics and she taught herself to use the computer programs so she could be ahead of the learning curve. However, on the day her research was due, she discovered a problem with the computer program and her data turned out to be all wrong, she said.

"That was quite a challenge to hear that when I had about six hours left," she said. So, to complete her project, she learned quickly to change focus and wrote on the steps taken to prepare for search, methodology and the steps for the future.

Derrick discovered that sometimes technology can be too powerful and spent hours before classes -- as early as 3 a.m. -- in an MIT lab tweaking variables so that he could get successful results. He also faced the challenge of learning calculus in two weeks. "It was stimulating and inspires you to do more." he said.

One of the highlights of the program for Husain was the opportunity to experience college life, he said. For Derrick, it was a chance to learn to balance work and a social life.

"This is probably the best summer of my life. I've never experienced anything like this before and I think it will be difficult to match this," Shannon said.

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