Rowland Hall equips students with the skills and experiences they need to thrive in a dynamic world. We believe education is active, and that deep, authentic learning experiences engage students in powerful ways, enabling them to view themselves as innovators and creators. Our new vision and strategic priorities are helping to center and formalize this work, but it’s long been a part of the Rowland Hall experience, inspiring generations of students to pursue, create, and share knowledge both in and outside the classroom. In the past year alone, we’ve watched many of our young scientists and engineers, fueled by their personal passions, tackle real-world problems and offer innovative solutions designed to better our shared world. This fall, we’re spotlighting some of their stories. (Be sure to also check out "Ruchi Agarwal Named Runner-up in National Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competition," "Three Rowland Hall Students Place Fourth at International Science and Engineering Fair for Aviation Engine Design," and "Max Smart ’22 and Science Teacher Dr. Padmashree Rida Published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences.")
This piece is republished from Rowland Hall's 2021–2022 Annual Report.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding a poster presented this spring at the Materials Research Society (MRS) meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“Discovery of Structure-Property Relationships of Intercalated Graphite Compounds Using Machine Learning” had the potential to lead to major discoveries in the field. But that isn’t what had people talking. It was that those presenting the poster weren’t researchers or professors, but four teenagers from Salt Lake City, Utah.
They were the only high school students there. People were very confused and very impressed.—Tascha Knowlton, Upper School science teacher
Rowland Hall seniors Tyler Gerstein, Ford Hodgkins, Samantha Lehman, and Olive Milavetz, along with science teacher Tascha Knowlton and University of Utah associate professor (and former Rowland Hall teacher) Dr. Kaci Kuntz, traveled to the conference to present findings from the school’s research science class, now in its second year.
“They were the only high school students there,” said Tascha. “People were very confused and very impressed. They were taken aback—some of them literally stepped back when they found out how old they were.”
The students’ work isn’t typical for high schoolers. They started their journey with document reviews, an undertaking that isn’t very exciting but is the bedrock of most scientific discoveries. They went through thousands of pages of research on the properties of graphite sheets—or graphene—to learn all they could about how they react with other compounds. “It was a lot of data mining and very time-consuming,” said Tascha. “They might go through multiple papers and only find one small piece of data worth using.”
The document reviews were just the tip of the iceberg. The students then took that data and dove into code writing and machine learning software to predict how the graphene would react to other unknown compounds. Would it take electrons from them or donate electrons to them? And what would the movement of those electrons do? The more they worked with the software, the more accurate the predictions became.
“We were able to predict color changes in the graphene depending on the compound placed between the sheets,” said Samantha. “It’s cool because color is an electric optical property.”
We got a lot of experience doing scientific writing. I got some coding experience, and we had to figure out machine learning. Then on top of all that, we had to navigate presenting our work to professionals in the field. We got to experience a range of activities in the scientific spectrum.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022
There is still more work to do, though, and it will be carried on by students at Rowland Hall in 2022–2023. They will take the data gathered and the predictions made this year and begin to look at how these compounds may be useful and how to engineer them for various purposes. “Graphite is the most stable form of carbon and very lightweight,” said Tascha. “It could be used in building batteries, or in touch screens. There are some possible medical applications. Lots of possibilities.”
While the students who presented at the MRS conference won’t be actively working on the project full time anymore, that doesn’t mean they are completely walking away. “We can come back in to help in any way we can, or be a mentor to younger students,” said Samantha. “It’s cool because the involvement is whatever I want it to be.”
Beyond the scope of the project, the students can take the lessons they learned into new educational and career opportunities. They left high school with many skills most don’t acquire until college, or even graduate school. “We got a lot of experience doing scientific writing. I got some coding experience, and we had to figure out machine learning,” said Samantha. “Then on top of all that, we had to navigate presenting our work to professionals in the field. We got to experience a range of activities in the scientific spectrum.”
It wouldn’t be unlikely to see some, if not all, of these amazing budding scientists presenting at many conferences to come.