By Sasha Frank
Expounding on the physiological importance of sleep, the regulation of gene expression through non-genetic mechanisms known as epigenetics, and the methods used to detect extrasolar planets, three senior scientists presented lectures to an audience in the Theater during last month’s seventh annual Current Topics & Research in Science and Technology (CTR) Symposium.
The forum, held on Thursday, January 16, was an intermediate project in the CTR course, according to Science Department Chair Leah Cataldo, who pioneered the program. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the foyer with a light dinner for 34 spectators, the event featured speakers Justin Flaumenhaft ’14 on sleep, Max Frank ’14 on epigenetics, and Liz Martin ’14 on the solar system. The course’s fourth member, Catherine Cuddy ’14, withdrew her sustainable fishing presentation due to an illness.
Spectators found the breadth of topics covered by the three seniors both fascinating and audience-friendly.
“The topics couldn’t have been more different,” said James Sebenius P’08, ’11, ’15. “The presenters did a great job of making it accessible and a great job of making it interesting.”
Ethan Hodges ’15 agreed, lauding the speakers for “defining each piece of material before going into it in depth.”
Liz said her longtime interest in astronomy made articulating her research easier, and she praised her teacher for helping her to pursue a topic she enjoys.
“Dr. Cataldo encourages us to explore new fields of science that would not be covered in a typical high school science class,” she added. “I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy and found that this project would be a great way to further explore that interest.”
Justin also praised the course for opening his mind.
“I think it was nice that we had a chance to dig into the specifics of each subject,” he said.
Dr. Cataldo said she is happy the class and the symposium help her students explore scientific fields of personal interest before they graduate. And the forum, she noted, helps them learn how to synthesize and condense copious information into a presentation for a general audience.
“The goal of the course is for students to be able to distill any scientific jargon down to the level that an Upper School student or a parent could understand,” she said.
Justin said the exercise in public speaking proved to be a surprisingly vital part of the experience.
“There’s really a fine balance between having it be accessible for the audience and giving them the full picture,” he said.
For the CTR scientists, the “full picture” is still expanding. Although each spent over four weeks working on the symposium presentation, Dr. Cataldo stressed that her students will tackle much more material yet, continuing to learn.
“It’s not the end of the course,” Dr. Cataldo said. “We will continue to explore new topics and do collaborative and independent projects throughout the year.”
Students will continue meeting regularly for the half-credit course until Senior Spring Project, during which they will convene once weekly as they pursue local science internships.