A biological catalyst is an enzyme that speeds up a chemical reaction without being consumed. Gilmour Academy’s Catalyst Program is an extracurricular course that accelerates students’ learning in the field of scientific research. What does the Catalyst Program entail? What are some of the research topics students have explored? How can students enroll?
The Catalyst Program
The Catalyst Program is organized and led by Dr. Neena Goel, Instructor in Science. “Catalyst is designed [so that] students who are interested in pursuing science in college can explore what they are interested in and experience what the real-world field looks like,” said Goel. The program gives students an opportunity to investigate cutting-edge research and observe how scientists in a particular field are trying to solve problems and find answers to their essential questions.
Goel said, “[Catalyst] gives a theoretical aspect of research in a high school setting…hands on work is done in the research labs.” The scientific topics available to students range from basic to applied research including molecular biology, cell biology, fungal immunology, evolutionary biology, psychology, biomedical engineering, civil engineering, physics, robotic research, and many more.
Students interested in participating in Catalyst are matched with a mentor in their field of interest. Goel expressed her appreciation for the mentors who take the time to engage high school students in their labs.
Matthew Mangel (`18) participated in Catalyst over the summer for five weeks. Mangel enrolled in the program because he “wanted a taste of what it’s like to do research in a lab.” Mangel studied at Case Western Reserve University’s Center for RNA Molecular Biology with his mentor, Dr. Kristian Baker.
The subject of research for Mangel and Baker was nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD). This is the process by which the cell rapidly degrades faulty mRNAs containing premature stop codons, or nonsense mutations. Mangel explained that this research is critical because as many as 30 percent of all genetic diseases are caused by nonsense mutations. In order to develop remedies that can help people with these genetic diseases, it is important to more fully understand how this process works.
Mangel’s research through Catalyst sparked his interests in the biological sciences. He hopes to study Pre-Medicine or Chemistry in college. “I think this program is important for anyone considering going into a science field,” said Mangel.
Additionally, Catherine Liang (`18) participated in Catalyst during the fall semester. She wanted to enroll in the program to prepare herself for research in college. Liang interned at Case Western Reserve University with Professor Jesse Berezovsky from the Physics Department.
Liang and Berezovsky’s research focused on magnetic vortices as alternative technology for quantum manipulation of electrons at room temperature. Considering the swiftness and precision of magnetic vortex dynamics under an impulse of a magnetic field, magnetic vortices could be a breakthrough for the next generation of quantum computers, Liang explained.
The most impactful Catalyst experience Liang had was troubleshooting problems with the computer and experimental instruments. She found that sometimes the technical aspects were more challenging than the experiments themselves. This research validated Liang’s interest in particle and high energy physics, quantum mechanics, and quantum optics.
There are multiple benefits that students gain after completion of the Catalyst Program. First and foremost, students experience what research is all about in the real world. Secondly, they learn about the problem solving that goes into understanding their projects. Thirdly, students enhance their critical thinking skills and their ability to analyze data.
Reflecting upon his Catalyst experience, Mangel said, “The program has given me the opportunity to participate in real biological research…The things we did in the lab were being done for the first time. Any result had the potential to be groundbreaking.”
Liang expressed how Catalyst enables students to grow as both scientists and researchers. “This program is especially important for those wanting to do research in college because not only does it give [students] a head start on lab work, but also a chance to see and decide whether [they] are ready to commit to research work in college,” said Liang.
Beyond the experiential outcomes, students learn to write about science in a concise way. Some of the assignments completed throughout the Catalyst course included weekly journal entries, focused response questions, news articles for the school paper, and a final exhibition.
In explaining the ultimate goal of Catalyst, Goel said, “In the long run, I hope that the students are able to see that in a Biology class, they say, ‘Oh, I learned about this, but where is it applicable?’ And that is what you find out in research labs.”
Students interested in enrolling in the Catalyst Program can click here for the Science Course Catalog. There are two letters of recommendation required (one for science and one for math) from current teachers. There is also a student questionnaire profile to specify when one wants to participate in Catalyst, what topic is preferred to research, and why that research is preferred. For more information, students may contact Dr. Neena Goel at email@example.com.