by Jonna Chen

This feature was first published in Journeys Winter 2018.

This article was written by communications intern Jonna Chen.

My eyes followed one bee among hundreds that were buzzing around. Hands-on training has always been my most effective way
of learning, and for the summer of 2018, decided to dig into exactly that. I experimented with different university-level research projects— mixing Eco ex (a type of silicone) and tracking live honey bees.

Growing up, I saw the marvel of science and engineering in everything that I experienced. I stared wide-eyed at the tiny rice-grain-sized camera that the doctor stuck up my nose before a surgery in second grade. I called first dibs on the fourth grade sheep eye dissection skill for demonstration night, skewering a total of ve sheep eyes in front of curious parents. 

Yet, when I came into freshman year at Singapore American School, I quickly realized that while I had an avid interest in science and seeing how the world works, I had no extracurriculars to exemplify this. Looking back, I really shouldn’t have worried. 

In my last three years at SAS, I’ve taught and organized science lessons to elementary schoolers through EAA (elementary after-school activities) Science Buddies. This offers science exposure to young students through activities like powering batteries to learning about density through DIY lava lamps and even touring through the SAS rainforest. I was upvoted by my peers and teachers to become the president of our school’s chapter of the Science National Honor Society for my senior year, directing countless science events around SAS. Even outside of the science realm, I chased my love for investigating and became editor-in-chief of the SAS Eye, directing a total of 24 student journalists to generate our student publication. This school has given my peers and
I countless opportunities to nurture our interest in any eld; it is simply up to us to take advantage of them. 

Following junior year, I was interested in seeing what research meant for an engineer at a university. In 2017, I met Professor Kirsten Petersen who teaches electrical and computer engineering at a summer program based in Cornell University. Less than a year later, I contacted her to see if I could work with her and gain research experience.

A few days after school ended in June, I was on a plane to Ithaca, New York to start an internship at the Collective Embodied Intelligence (CEI) Lab at Cornell University for the summer of 2018. The CEI Lab specializes in bio-inspired robot collectives, as described by Professor Petersen.
Her lab looks into what nature has already perfected through evolution and imitates that with man-made machines for more efficiency in our own processes.
On my first day, she gave me a tour around the lab space and introduced me to all of the projects from construction robots modeled after termites to soft silicone robots modeled after inchworms.
I was able to work on two of their main projects over the summer. 

To help more accurately replicate this design in man-made products such as in airplane wings and cardboard, I analyzed organic honeycomb, one
of the most optimal natural structures. I used a computer program to trace and map out images of honeycomb in search of patterns.

I also tested a prototype of a device designed to replicate a “shaking” movement that bees do to others in order to increase their productivity. In a bee observatory, I spent hours bee-watching and clicking a hand counter each time a bee crossed over a marked line on the grid. Furthermore, I was even able to incorporate my journalism background into this experience and create a marketing video for the lab, which is now featured on their website ( news/news-2/in-the-news/). My time at Cornell has not only taught me more about engineering and research in university, but has inspired me to pursue it in the future. 

During my four weeks in Ithaca, I was surrounded by 19 square kilometers of greenery, waterfalls, and ivy-covered buildings, and I started to wonder what the college experience would be like. My senior year of high school was fast approaching, as well as months of researching colleges, writing essays, and making decisions. I talked to a few alumni to get a sense of how their backgrounds at SAS and Cornell shaped their careers. 

Adam Bergere (Class of 2013) who currently works at J.P. Morgan in New York City told me that being “surrounded by students who took school fairly seriously... pushed [him] to work harder”. 

Kasey Han (Class of 2014) works in a neuroscience lab at University of California, San Francisco while applying to medical schools. According to Han, SAS increased her cultural and global awareness through programs like Interim Semester. The curriculum also fostered her interest in biology and the lifeguarding PE class inspired her to pursue pre-med at Cornell. 

In my conversations with alumni, I realized that the opportunities and support offered at SAS nurture students to further their passions and interests. When I shut off my lab PC for the last time this summer, I knew that this would not be the last time I would step foot in a university research lab. I got the hands-on learning that I love there, learning about the world through the use of computer programs, mixing chemicals in the wet lab, and visiting thousands of honeybees at a time. 

In my time with Professor Petersen, there was one statement that particularly caught my attention: “[Engineering] is a chance to be incredibly creative and do a lot of teamwork. It’s about enabling people to do more things and changing the world.” I’m not quite sure yet where I will be going when this school year is over, but I know that with a past as a science enthusiast and a SAS high school experience, I will undoubtedly be able to make change in the world. 

  • catalyst
  • Cornell University
  • high school
  • research
  • summer internships
  • summer plans



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