Simone’s summer of science: Valley High student attends Auburn summer STEM camp

Published 10:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2024

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Not many students would expect to encounter water moccasins while hunting tree frogs by flashlight at science camp over the summer. But that’s just what Valley High student Simone Floyd did while attending Auburn University’s Summer Science Institute (SSI), a summer camp focused on STEM research.

Floyd, a senior, hopes to attend the University of Alabama and wants to go on to do research involving genetics or genomics to study treatments for genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia.  She serves as the Ecology Club president and takes dual enrollment classes at Southern Union State Community College. 

Each year, the residential program invites 10 to 20 rising juniors and seniors to come for a week and attend lectures and try experiments within different fields of science, technology and mathematics. 

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From ecology to computer science to genetic engineering, the STEM Outreach Center in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) facilitates lab instruction and unique hands-on experiences for students. 

Because of her interest in science, her former teacher Chelsea Bunn sent her the flyer and encouraged her to apply. Floyd was one of 16 high school students across the state and a few in Georgia chosen out of 60 applicants. 

This year, students from fourteen high schools attended. 

Perhaps most interesting for a hopeful geneticist in the making, Floyd said, was learning about genetically modified flies that reacted to different colors of light with specific movements. 

“So if you have like a red light, they jump up and down. If you shine a blue light, they run around in circles,” she said, remembering how they reminded her of zombies. 

However, that wasn’t the only thing she found interesting. One night, the students all waded out into a swamp with flashlights to collect tree frogs during a herpetology hunt in Tuskegee National Forest. 

“Surprisingly, leeches don’t hurt,” Floyd said laughing.

From tree frogs to flies to sea urchins, Floyd also was interested in seeing how animals were used in experiments such as biomimicry, which is how human-made structures mimic models and systems of the natural world.

They also learned about atmospheric chemistry testing, wild bird study fieldwork, modeling experimental data of the universe, solar energy experiments and the physics of musical instruments to design and make a flute, according to a press release from Auburn University.

Floyd said she enjoyed learning from all of the professors. The COSAM program has brought professors of all fields to Auburn from all around the world. 

“They had been in research for decades in their field,” she said, “And they were all super excited about their fields.”

COSAM graduate students and upper-level undergraduates served as counselors, and Floyd said, she enjoyed getting to know them as well as the other high school students. Everyone was engaged in the experience and “really knew their stuff,” she remembered. 

In addition to the hands-on learning, students get a taste of campus life during the week, sleeping in on-campus dormitories, eating at the Melton Student Center and the Edge and visiting the library. 

Rising high school juniors and seniors from Alabama or Georgia are eligible to apply to the next SSI in October. Because there is limited space, participants will be chosen on an academically competitive basis. 

SSI is free to participants as fees are sponsored by grants and other organizations at Auburn University.