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Lab bench with analysis equipment and chemicals.

UF research program gives high school students lab experience

For seven weeks this summer, three high school students have been conducting research in Soil and Water Sciences Department labs. Their on-campus experience is through the University of Florida Student Science Training Program (UF-SSTP). The program is in its 61st year of pairing rising high school seniors with UF scientists.

student working in science lab

Alex Zhou

“I was looking for summer research opportunities and came across SSTP,” said Alex Zhou, who attends Lake Forest Academy in Illinois. “It’s known as a highly sought after program, so I applied for it and I’m really happy that I was accepted.”

Zhou and Arthur Zheng worked in Dr. A.J. Reisinger’s lab in the UF/IFAS Soil and Water Sciences Department.

“I’m interested in all types of biology, from microbiology to ecology, so this is a good fit,” said Zheng, a senior at Wasatch Academy in Utah.

student working in science lab

Arthur Zheng

The two learned about lab safety procedures and how to use the lab equipment. They also went out in the field with two of Reisinger’s graduate students.

“What I expected was straight-up lab work and analysis, but I’ve been able to get out into the field and collect samples,” Zhou said. “You get to see the problem first-hand and that helps you better understand your project as a whole.”

“We’re learning how to write in scientific literature,” Zheng added. “It’s actually my first time doing that. It’s totally different.”

student working in science lab

Liz Black

Liz Black will start her senior year at Coral Shores High School in Florida this fall. She learned about high school students in SSTP when she participated in UF’s Research Explorations program last summer. Her interest in chemistry, climate change, and sea-level rise earned her a spot in the lab of Dr. Jonathan Judy, assistant professor of Soil and Water Chemistry.

“I had no idea what to expect, coming into it,” Black said. “It opened my mind to a lot of other different things I can do. (Coming into SSTP,) I was very focused on one thing, and now I’m not sure which way I want to go.”

In addition to working in the labs, high school students in SSTP have a lecture course each morning. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they attend a seminar on a topic related to their interest in science. The program wraps up with a research poster session where the students present what they have worked on with their faculty mentor.