Inspiring the Next Generation

Tufts graduate students continue to forge connections with young scientists and engineers through a Reverse Science Fair with Medford High School.

By Lynne Powers

On a blustery March day, a group of Tufts graduate students visited Medford High School. The object: to listen to high school students present science projects they had been working on in teams.

Tufts graduate students presenting.

Dan Banco, a participating Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and a GEM fellow, says, “I was really impressed by many of the experimental rigs students put together (even if they had some help).” One pair of students trained a neural network to play checkers using a genetic algorithm. Banco found their work particularly impressive, saying that it would be feasible for an undergraduate or graduate student to work on a similar project.

The recent visit was part of the third annual Reverse Science Fair between Tufts and Medford High. The structure is simple: in the fall, Tufts graduate students present their research to the high school students, and in the spring, the teenagers return the favor. It’s an opportunity for Tufts graduate students to encourage and inspire (and be inspired by) the next generation of engineers and scientists.

This year, 14 Tufts graduate students participated in the Reverse Science Fair program. In the fall, they presented on their work. Electrical engineer Banco shared his research comparing algorithms for reconstructing magnetic resonance video. The research has the potential to accelerate and reduce the costs of expensive MRI scans by constructing images from fewer samples. Banco used a familiar metaphor to explain it to students – the same principles can be used to determine Netflix recommendations, which also use algorithms to predict missing data.

“The goal of the poster presentation is to teach the high school student about what doing real-world research is really like from the perspective of the scientists,” says program and outreach specialist Karen O’Hagan, who organized the event with Professor Charles Sykes from the Department of Chemistry.

This month, the high school students presented their projects, which ranged from testing a homemade microbial fuel cell to blocking cosmic rays and studying the effects of temperature on electroplating. The Tufts graduate students served as judges for the presentations, and appreciated the opportunity to both get enthusiastic with young scientists and to practice their own research presentation skills.

Banco says, “Both sessions were fun and rewarding, and I would highly recommend volunteering to any graduate student.”

Read more about the Reverse Science Fair program. The program includes extracurricular activities that are supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (CHE-1412402) to Tufts University in support of Professor Charles Sykes, Department of Chemistry.