Independent Science Research Students Present Scholarly Work at 2021 Symposium

Members of the 2021 Independent Science Research (ISR) cohort showcased their scientific work at this year’s virtual ISR Symposium, the capstone experience of the three-year ISR elective through which students collaborate with scientists in a laboratory setting to research a topic of interest. 

At the outset of the program, Grade 10 students selected for the ISR program identify an area of science they’re passionate about and embark upon the challenging process of working to secure a mentor in the field. Next, students review scientific literature, generate hypotheses and connect with a mentor to begin their research. Finally, in their senior year, ISR students analyze their findings, write a scholarly paper and present their results to the Spence community. 

This year’s three ISR seniors, Safia S., Kate D., and Anna G., studied a range of topics that both demonstrate their individual interests and exemplify a shared focus on improving the world through purposeful scholarship, reflected Science Department Head Dalia Aidoo, who oversees the program. “The ISR students have shown incredible dedication and commitment to their area of research,” Aidoo said. “One of the questions we usually ask is, ‘why do you care about this research? Why does any of it matter?’... Even though each area of research is different, at their core, each student is demonstrating intent and passion for improving the lives of others.”

Safia studied ”The Experiences of Minors Seeking Asylum in the United States: A Modified Consensual Qualitative Research Analysis.” After an extensive review of affidavits by minor asylum seekers, Safia and her team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai concluded that it is important to assess the mental and physical health needs of that population based on what they experienced both in their countries of origin and during their time in the United States. Based on their findings, the research team asserts that the US government should work to house asylum seekers with relatives or host families rather than in detention centers. “We are hoping that they will place children in less restrictive environments for their health and well-being,” said Safia. Her research paper was published last year in the Journal of Traumatic Stress and has important implications for policy changes regarding the treatment of minor asylum seekers. 

Kate’s scholarly work, “FDA-Approved Ferumoxytol Displays Anti-Leukemia Efficacy Against Low Ferroportin Levels,” was similarly impactful, as she and a team of researchers at Weill Cornell Medical Hospital explored a type of immunotherapy that would directly target cancer cells in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) patients. “This research is striving for a future where AML isn’t a tragic death sentence,” said Kate. She noted that the immunotherapy drug Ferumoxytol showed promise in female mice with the disease, who lived longer on average than mice with the condition who were not given the experimental drug. “The paper made a really fascinating discovery that could likely result in a new form of AML treatment in the next couple of years which is much less toxic than chemotherapy or radiation,” Kate emphasized, adding that the drug may work similarly in other types of cancer. “Hopefully this research could be applied across the board.”

Anna’s scientific research, “Exploring Approaches for the Conversion of Carbon Dioxide to Value-Added Products,” which was conducted through the Catalysis Research Group at Columbia University, offered potential solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Her particular focus was on the process of electrocatalytic conversion, through which the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide may be converted into methanol, an important industrial chemical used to create fuel, solvents and antifreeze. “Although this research is in the early stages…it would be a great way to convert a gas, made up of essentially two waste materials, one of which is harmful to the atmosphere, into much more useful materials,” Anna said. 

Congratulations to this year’s ISR cohort! 

To find out more about the Spence ISR program, read this article on last year’s ISR Symposium and visit the Upper School Science curriculum page