High School Students Explore the UT Austin Lab Experience

group of students wearing lab coats and glasses in lab

Left to right: Michael Koetting, Frank Muehleman, Kevin Lee, Jonathan Peters, Sofia Kennedy, Sam Norwood, Sarena Horava, John Sullivan, Lindsey Sharpe, and David Spencer.

For five science-minded high school students, the past three weeks have been consumed with hands-on learning about oral drug delivery in a research university lab setting.

Sofia Kennedy a senior at Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin and Kevin Lee, Frank Muehleman, Sam Norwood, and John Sullivan, all students at St. Stephen's Episcopal in Austin, have been working with graduate students from Dr. Nicholas Peppas' Laboratory of Biomaterials, Drug Delivery and Bionanotechnology. They are participating in The University of Texas at Austin Graduate Research in High School Hands Program.

Established by Peppas and his graduate students in 2010, the program gives interested high school students the opportunity to see firsthand the workings of a research laboratory and to foster interest in biomedical engineering.

Lindsey Sharpe, a biomedical engineering graduate student, and Sarena Horava, Michael Koetting, Jonathan Peters, and David Spencer, all chemical engineering graduate students, have guided the group through various experiments with oral drug delivery, teaching the students about pH- and thermal-responsive systems, drug loading, and degradation systems.

"I was surprised by how much attention we got from the graduate students," said John Sullivan. "In a high school class we would have been spoon fed the answer from a teacher, but we actually had to innovate to solve problems."

Students commented that although the experiments seemed disconnected at first, by the last week of the program, they saw how the research intertwined.

All five of the students are interested in pursuing science and engineering fields in their higher education.