A Passion for Innovation
by Veloie Mastrocola ’23
High School Students Develop Innovative Health Care Solutions
Stepping into the shoes of history’s most creative researchers, at age 14, Enrique Lopez hopes to one day be as well known as Nikola Tesla or Albert Einstein. And in Lopez’s eyes, these role models are not just intelligent, but diversified, accomplished and accredited inventors. And by tackling complex health care issues through the Albright Science Research Institute, Lopez is already well on his way.
“My favorite thing about the SRI program is that you can learn how to carve your own path,” said Lopez, a Governor Mifflin ninth grader who is exploring the effects of near infrared light on brain health at the Science Research Institute.
Lopez recognizes that many cognitive diseases are rooted in cell damage within the body, specifically regarding the mitochondria, and his interest in red light derives from its capacity to produce energy within cells and heal mitochondria. To capitalize on this potential, he plans to develop a red light device that targets damaged mitochondria within somatic cells. Ultimately, Lopez hopes to develop a model of red light therapy (RLT) that could cure major diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
In an adjacent room, Melody Saboori, a 10th grader from Century Cyber Charter School, is hard at work, reimagining the possibilities for medical treatment. Her aim, through trial-and-error experiments, is to repurpose existing drugs to develop a treatment against microbial parasites. Her hope is to isolate and transform a drug that is already easily accessible and affordable, which could then become a viable alternative to the expensive drugs that currently circulate within the health care system.
If successful, either project could easily change the health care industry. But even if their experiments fail, these students win—having gained invaluable confidence in their ability to conduct unbiased, peer-reviewed research while exploring all the possibilities with a creative mindset.
The entire Science Research Institute environment encourages curiosity, says Saboori. “Really, any idea that I have, [the mentors] are always on board, ready to explore it.”
Because the Science Research Institute is located on Albright College’s campus, both Lopez and Saboori have also benefited from collaboration with Albright professors. Networking with Michael Armato, Ph.D., and Amy Greene, Ph.D., in the college’s political science and chemistry departments, Saboori says, “It’s really great to work with professors even though I’m only 16.”
Likewise, Lopez found working with faculty members, such as physics professor Brian Buerke, Ph.D., to be valuable. “It was nice because they had knowledge that they were able to give me, and they were able to do it in a friendly way,” Lopez said.
The Science Research Institute after-school program has allowed Saboori and Lopez to springboard their interests in scientific study, while gaining on-the-ground experience before officially entering the field. It’s experience that Saboori will take with her to college, where she plans to study biology or political science.
“I’m proud of how far I was able to come by actualizing my potential,” says Lopez, considering his growth due to the program and resources. “[There are] so many ideas and so many opportunities that I’m able to get, not just from them but [also] out of myself.”
“Everyone here has incredible ideas,” said Saboori. “Everyone has their own special thing, and they’re allowed to explore it.”
Fostering Young Talent at the Science Research Institute
Laila Graddick (5th grade), Heriel Ramirez (7th grade) and Grant Miller (8th grade) arrive from various schools in Reading, Pa., to participate in the innovative Science Research Institute after-school program. The program, which works in partnership with Albright College, seeks to foster the scientific potential that resides within every child.
“There is a lot to do here, and there is a lot to explore,” said Graddick, age 11, whose project focuses on the effects of diverse flours in cookie recipes.
A student at Reading Junior Academy, her most recent experiments have involved baking cookies with almond flour and subsequently performing blind taste tests. Her goal is to determine which gluten-free flour is optimal in both quality and aesthetic to provide an alternative for people who have gluten allergies.
Ramirez, age 12, attends Southwest Middle School in Reading, Pa., and he is also interested in conducting work that benefits his community. He is currently engaged in developing a car emissions filter, a mechanism that would be attached to a vehicle’s tailpipe.
“The emissions are really hurting our environment,” Ramirez explained, noting the upward trend of CO2 emissions and their harmful effects. Inspired by the environmental improvement that the world witnessed during the COVID-19 quarantines in 2020, Ramirez wants to continue that progress with an invention that would reduce CO2 pollution in the atmosphere.
While Graddick and Ramirez are involved in more tangible endeavors, Miller, age 13, is engaging in a project directed toward the online community as he experiments with the addition of variables to video games and measures their effects on gameplay. An SRI student scholar representing Schuylkill Valley Middle School, Miller began participating in the Science Research Institute after-school program after receiving an institute scholarship for an experiment he conducted with rechargeable batteries, which he presented at the Reading Berks Science and Engineering Fair.
Students participating in the after-school program often find themselves growing and exploring even beyond the boundaries of their projects. Miller, for example, has observed that participating in the program has improved his public speaking skills and has rendered him more knowledgeable about various branches of scientific study. Likewise, Graddick has become more adept at practicing the scientific method, and she is eager to explore more of the resources within the institute, including the diverse laboratories.
Although these students are working on projects that cover a diverse range of topics, they each share a passion for experimentation and discovery. The program, which allows them to work alongside Albright student interns as well as professors to develop their ideas, continues to prove that no one is too young to pursue an idea that could change the world.
Learn more at albright.edu/sri.