Penn State Health mentors cutting-edge student scientists

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rini Kaneria suspects that a peptide found in wasp venom could break down cancer cells.

Kyle Blimline wants to know if DNA extracted from maggots found on corpses could help identify crime victims.

And Rachel Maurer works as part of a team developing a way to use 3D printing and bioglass to create custom bandages and heal wounds faster.

These researchers aren’t employed by scientific laboratories, academic institutions or medical centers. They’re all teenagers who spend their days attending a rural public high school in Berks County.

Their work has drawn the attention of medical professionals at Penn State Health, financial support from cutting-edge companies, and invitations to international science and engineering fairs.

Adelle Schade, a science teacher at Conrad Weiser High School in Robesonia, Pennsylvania, spent the past decade building a program now known as the Science Research Institute (SRI) that engages 130 students in scientific research of personal interest, some of which has patent potential.

While pursuing her own graduate work, Schade began bringing what she was learning back to her high school students. She mined professional connections and the local community to build donations of money, supplies and equipment.

“Public schools normally can’t afford to do this kind of thing,” Schade said. “But once you can show that the students are competent at what they are doing, people are more willing to help them.”

Last year, the school formed a partnership with Penn State Health through which medical professionals and researchers give lectures, mentor students and work together on projects of mutual interest.

This summer, Dr. Stephen Cyran, a pediatric cardiologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital, will work with some of the teens to study the cardio impact of amusement park visits in children. His personal interest is exercise physiology, so he was intrigued by Schade’s decade of cardiac data from taking students to Hersheypark and the students’ question of whether amusement parks could benefit a child’s cardiac health.

“I have read a couple of negative things about rides, but the students’ concept is completely different,” Cyran said.

Learn more about the Science Research Institute at Conrad Weiser High School — and the involvement of Penn State Health faculty — in this Penn State Medicine article.

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Last Updated June 18, 2018