That’s when I knew I loved science

Crystal Zheng

Crystal Zheng describes her project. She realized how much she loved science when she was able to look into a brain cell. 

B. Brookshire/SSP

WASHINGTON — An inspirational moment can be the start of a scientific career. Here we share such recollections from some of the 40 high-school finalists competing in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search. This annual event was created by Society for Science & the Public (which publishes this blog and Science News for Students) and is sponsored by Intel. The high school seniors taking part show off their scientific achievements to the public and compete for thousands of dollars in prizes.

Here, in their own words, we now share moments when some of these teen researchers first realized how much they loved science, technology, engineering and math.

My eighth birthday party was NASA-themed…I got my first telescope. It was taller than I was…I was really, really excited and that was something that spurred my interest. It started with space.

– Emily Spencer, 18, Hathaway Brown School, Shaker Heights, Ohio.

I think my love of science stems of day-to-day things….One time I was walking into school, and I had my travel mug. I had my gloves on because it was cold outside, and I realized that it was taking a lot more energy to hold the mug….It occurred to me that the friction between my gloves and the mug was a lot lower than it was between my hands and the mug. It required me to apply a stronger force.

– Anya Michaelsen, 17, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Burke, Va.

I was interning this summer at [the University of California at Berkeley]….The whole experience made me realize that science isn’t confined to a classroom or biology or chemistry. It applies to so many aspects of people’s lives in so many diverse ways. It made me appreciate science all the more.

– Tiffany Sun, 17, Roslyn High School, Roslyn, N.Y.

When I was nine or 10, my father, who researches molecular biology, took me to his lab once or twice….Seeing that lab, it was kind of like a playground. Really new. And really cool.

– Max Pine, 17, Pelham Memorial High School, Pelham, N.Y.

In the seventh grade I had the opportunity to do a science fair project. I grew 200 moths in my apartment to test whether insecticides made from plants could be useful in attacking them….After two weeks of counting worms and catching moths and boiling garlic in my kitchen pots, I was able to look at my data. I realized my pesticides worked….It was a moment where I realized…people can contribute to science in so many different ways. The things you read about or heard about in class, you could do them, too.

– Kalia Firester, 17, Hunter College High School, New York, N.Y.

In seventh grade I had this math teacher. She liked to give us a lot of difficult, interesting problems….[I worked] on these problems for weeks and months and once, even a year. I was finally able to see the solution. It inspired me.

– Noah Golowich, 17, Lexington High School, Lexington, Mass.

I was imaging neurons in 3D…It was really amazing to see on a molecular level, inside neurons what exactly was happening. That was when I realized…this is what’s happening inside me!

– Crystal Zheng, 17, Jericho Senior High School, Jericho, N.Y.

In elementary school I visited this professor. He opened a drawer and took out this strange looking rock. I asked what it was. He told me it was a meteorite….It seemed very mysterious ….It was really intriguing to me that he could gather all of this knowledge from a rock. That’s when I started to get into science.

— Jesse Zhang, 17, Fairview High School, Boulder, Colo.

I think the first time was in eighth grade, I was doing a really simple research project. I was taking [bacteria] from sinks and putting it together with soap and seeing if the bacteria was resistant….I really love the sense of excitement and fulfillment from science. I’ve fallen in love with the process of gathering knowledge from what we can observe.

— Andrew Jin, 17, The Harker School, San Jose, Calif.

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Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

bacterium (plural bacteria)  A single-celled organism. These dwell nearly everywhere on Earth, from the bottom of the sea to inside animals.

force  Some outside influence that can change the motion of a body, hold bodies close to one another, or produce motion or stress in a stationary body.

friction  The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over or through another material (such as a fluid or a gas). Friction generally causes a heating, which can damage the surface of the materials rubbing against one another.

insecticide  A poison applied to kill insects.

meteor  A lump of rock or metal from space that hits the atmosphere of Earth. In space it is known as a meteoroid. When you see it in the sky it is a meteor. And when it hits the ground it is called a meteorite. 

neuron or nerve cell  Any of the impulse-conducting cells that make up the brain, spinal column and nervous system. These specialized cells transmit information to other neurons in the form of electrical signals.

resistance    (as in drug resistance) The reduction in the effectiveness of a drug to cure a disease, usually a microbial infection. (as in disease resistance) The ability of an organism to fight off disease. (as in exercise)  A type of rather sedentary exercise that relies on the contraction of muscles to build strength in localized tissues.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.