A poster hangs on the wall of the Satellite High School science lab, featuring a former student’s doctoral research at Yale University – to motivate budding scientists, and to demonstrate that the sky’s the limit.
Centrifuges, high-speed microscopes, sensitive specialized scales, commercial refrigerators and bio waste containers fill the facility’s two rooms, waiting and ready for student projects. There’s even an incubator where several students have grown cancer cells and an autoclave that sterilizes items at temperatures up to 121 degrees Celsius, equal to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
The lab, tucked away in a quiet corner of the campus, gives students a unique opportunity to conduct their own advanced research on just about any topic they choose.
“It’s a lot of hands-on experience and we’re lucky to have a professional lab to work in,” student lab manager and senior Nina Reddy said. “That really helps us grow as young scientists.”
Just how professional is the SHS lab? It’s a designated Bio Safety Level II facility, which means it is set up to handle microbiological research on toxic substances such as infectious diseases. Every high school in Brevard County has a science lab, as do many area private schools and other public schools throughout the state. But the BSL II designation sets Satellite above of its peers.
And while they don’t actually work with hazardous substances in the lab, the designation holds special cachet when students present their projects to science fair judges or college professors.
Reddy said students at most other schools often have to go to a college lab to do advanced biomedical research.
“The judges want to see that we did our own work,” Reddy said. “When we say, ‘Oh, we did this at our high school,’ they’re impressed. We have a very good reputation here in this lab.”
The lab gets funding from the School Board and grants, and gets equipment donated from the local scientific community.
Seasoned student researchers gathered at the lab on a recent Saturday to train a dozen or so newbies on how to use the equipment, as well as brief them on important safety rules and policies. They were supervised by teacher Joseph Scott, one of three faculty members who oversee the lab.
Since it was just training and non-researchers were present, students weren’t in their full lab gear or using actual specimens. They demonstrated some of the advanced techniques used in the facility, including things as simple as hand washing to how to prepare specimens for the incubator.
“You’re going to have to learn to do a lot of things with one hand,” Reddy told the new researchers as she demonstrated how not to contaminate a specimen when placing it in a test tube or on a microscope slide.
Satellite has 60 students enrolled in science research this year. West Shore High School, which is a smaller school but has grades seven through 12, has 128 students enrolled. The number of science research students at Melbourne High was not available.
At the annual Brevard County Science Fair, Satellite and West Shore are traditionally top winners in their respective divisions, and often send several students to state and international science fairs each year.
“Science research is one of the courses that is student-driven,” according to Maggie Molledo, one of the faculty members who oversees West Shore’s lab. “They work to their ability level and higher. It is also a team approach. Everyone supports each other and encourages them to improve and do more.”
Teachers at both schools say their faculty teams and student researchers spend so much time together that they bond like family and keep in touch for years after high school is over.
Many students start working on their projects over the summer, and are often in the lab on weekends and during other school breaks.
“It’s not uncommon to have one of them in here on Christmas Day,” Scott said.