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Making Discoveries With Weston Scholars

Now in its 22nd year, the hands-on science program for high school students keeps breaking new ground

Posted in: Science and Technology

Josh Weston listens to science student
Josh Weston founded the Weston Science Scholars program with his late wife, Judy, 22 years ago. Over the years, more than 1,000 high school students have benefited from the annual intensive five-week summer science program at Montclair State University.

Curiosity is clearly an inter-generational quality, as demonstrated by Josh Weston and 38 Montclair High School students last week.

Weston, 93, and his late wife, Judy, founded the Weston Science Scholars in partnership with Montclair State University and the Montclair Public Schools 22 years ago and have provided generous support to make the program possible each year. The former CEO of Automatic Data Processing (ADP) showed that his enthusiasm for the summer science program remains as high as ever as he peppered this year’s cohort of high school students with questions, hopping among various buildings, laboratories and classrooms on the Montclair State campus to learn about experiments in marine biology, physics, genomic sequencing, cybersecurity, magnetic imaging and more.

“Hopefully you’ll discover something your professor doesn’t know,” Weston told a group of Montclair High School students working with Biology Professor Julian Keenan, director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at Montclair State.

Through the Weston Science Scholars, more than three dozen high-performing ninth, 10th and 11th graders working in six cohorts are spending five weeks using the scientific method to study everything from racism to jellyfish before presenting their results at a colloquium on July 28. In the process they’ll experience hands-on experimentation and virtual lectures from leading experts from around the world. This fall, they’ll enjoy field trips to the Liberty Science Center, Community Food Bank of New Jersey and beyond.

Program director and Montclair High School science teacher Lynn English keeps it all humming along with the help of fellow teacher Dede Portas. Like Weston, English has a passion for the program, with plans to expand to include other area high school students in coming years.

“We want to spread the word about Weston Scholars,” says English. “These kids are amazing. They’re learning, they’re discovering, and they’re having the time of their lives.”

And so, it seems, is Weston.


Learn more about the Weston Science Scholars program individual projects for summer 2021 in the photo gallery below (photos by Mike Peters):

Weston surrounded by five students showing him their work in marine biology

“We’re doing marine biology so we are working on analyzing clinging jellyfish. Today we’re going to be doing an experiment to see if the spider crabs will eat the clinging jellyfish over blue mussels or other predators,” rising sophomore Kaia Hunkins, explains to Josh Weston, with Estelle Svenson, Asha Giancaspro, Sophia Draxler and Anisa Uddin (not pictured: Charles Moroze who is procuring the spider crab from a nearby tank). The students are working with Biology Professor Paul Bologna.

Josh Weston and Anjel Fierst

Anjel Fierst, a rising junior, explains the research project in Julian Keenan’s group: “We have been looking at racism in the brain and how implicit bias acts with social filters. Our current hypothesis is that we are going to use TMS – transcranial magnetic stimulation – to inhibit your medial prefrontal cortex, the social filter of the brain, and we think that it will make you more racist because we’ve looked at other studies and collected research. … But we are also going to expand the study to look at other implicit biases to see if those act the same as racism or if they diverge and if so maybe that leads to further research of where they are in the brain.”

Weston with two students in a biology lab inspecting fluids in a pipette

Ellen Last shows Weston a gel electrophoresis experiment as Maya Gerdes looks on. Gerdes explained the process: “PCR is polymerase chain reaction and it’s used to amplify the fragment of DNA that we’re looking at. So we isolated the DNA and then we went through PCR and now we’re talking about NGS which is next generation sequencing. We’re doing gel electrophoresis to actually see the DNA band.” The students are working with Biology Associate Professor Robert Meredith.

Weston speaking with four students in a computer lab in CCIS

Chris Borgen explains a cybersecurity project with Computer Science Associate Professor Jiacheng Shang: “We’ve been working on creating an app that works on android devices that will live-collect data from the sensors we’ve set up – currently we have an accelerometer, a gyroscope and linear accelerometer. It takes those data points and … with that, it’ll be able to tell if the phone is stolen or not by working on the past experiences of the phone.” With Mert Kiran and Ryan Unruh.

Weston with three students showing him their experiment using lasers and prisms

Left to right: Drew Chichester, Kidus Mengistu, Weston and Lucas Gilson. Gilson explains that the numbers are not adding up for an experiment to measure the refractive index of a piece of glass. Working with Physics Adjunct Professor Emrah Altunkaya.

professor helping to position student with magnetometer

Montclair High School rising sophomore Leland Rogers and Earth and Environmental Studies Adjunct Professor Mike Ayers, use a magnetometer to discover subsurface objects on the Quad. “They are doing geophysical surveys,” says Ayers. “Last week we used radio waves to reflect off of objects. We’ve basically been investigating the way they’ve developed campus. These surveys are very, very popular in industrial uses and construction settings.”

Student measuring out the quad with surveyor's tape

Montclair High School rising sophomore Lauren Loflin creates a grid on the Quad for a magnetic survey of the subsurface.


Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann

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