DENTON (UNT), Texas — For many teens, their first summer job means taking food orders or bussing the tables in a restaurant, sacking groceries, babysitting or working as a camp counselor or lifeguard.
Mira Patel's job, however, is in the University of North Texas biology lab of Pamela Padilla, identifying a molecular mechanism involved with how diet and genotype influence stress responses. The research will provide more information about the consequences of gestational diabetes.
And Jonathan Lu is investigating properties of a magnesium alloy that could potentially be used as a biodegradable bone implant, in the UNT materials science lab of Narendra Dahotre.
Lu, from Dallas; Patel, from McKinney; and four other teens who were high school sophomores last year are doing the research on the UNT campus during the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science's Early Summer Research Program. The six students have been accepted to the academy and enrolled for the 2017 fall semester.
Known as TAMS, the academy is the nation's first accelerated residential program for gifted high school students to enroll in college-level classes. The students live in a UNT residence hall, attend regular UNT classes and have opportunities to conduct research in faculty members' laboratories. TAMS students earn a minimum of 60 hours of college credit – the equivalent of a high school diploma – over two years.
For many years, TAMS has offered scholarships for students to do research during the summer between their first and second years at TAMS. In 2016, the academy began also offering scholarships to incoming TAMS students who were accepted early in the spring semester of their sophomore years of high school.
Each student is assigned to a UNT faculty mentor based on the student's interests in science. The students are expected to spend at least 35 hours a week on research, as required by their mentors.
The Early Summer Research students also attend a class to learn research methods and techniques, and attend a weekly dinner meeting with James Duban, associate dean for research and national scholarships in UNT's Honors College, to practice the art of conversation — scientific and otherwise.
Patel, who attended McKinney High School, called TAMS "the sort of community I looked forward to being a part of, with all opportunities laid out in front of you."
"I like the independence that will come with being a TAMS student. And I think I will go into the medical field for my career. Doing research now is providing me with a foundation for developing research methods," she said.
Lu is working at UNT's Discovery Park campus, which is five miles north of the university's main campus in Denton and houses the College of Engineering. He said he is "doing exactly what I want to do" in his materials science research project.
"The research is helping me develop skills in problem solving and design, which will benefit me every day," said Lu, who most recently attended Shepton High School in Plano. "It's also hard to go blindly into an academic year. I'm getting a head start on other new TAMS students because I'm already learning my way around campus."
Raahi Menon, also from Plano, is working with UNT biologist Douglas Root to study a muscle protein that contributes to the regulation of muscle contraction. He said he's enjoying being part of a team of researchers.
"If you have a detailed question, the professor's there to explain, and if you have a more basic question, the graduate students will explain," he said. "I’m learning so much, and this summer program will help me decide what area of research I want to pursue."
Other Early Research students and their faculty mentors are Aditya Paul, working with Vijay Vaidyanathan in the Department of Biomedical Engineering; Ellen Qian, working with William Acree in the Department of Chemistry and Alan Zhu, working with Mohammad Omary in the Department of Chemistry.