Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

IMSA Students Stand on Shoulders of Science Giants at AJAS/AAAS

A group of IMSA students presented their research alongside some of the world’s science pioneers and trailblazers at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Chicago this past February.   The IMSA students participated as part of the American Junior Academy of Science (AJAS), which hosts the student conference as part of AAAS.

IMSA President Dr. Max McGee and students Sushma Kola and Jasmine Kwasa presented a session at the Forum for School Science.
Students Sushma Kola and Kristen Lee meet Dr. Bruce Alberts at "Breakfast with the Scientists." 
IMSA students attend "Breakfast with the Scientists."

During the conference, the IMSA students presented their SIR (Student Inquiry and Research) investigations, attended AAAS conference sessions, and toured Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  In addition, students also attended “Breakfast with the Scientists,” where they had the opportunity to meet and dine with great scientific minds.  

A highlight for student Sushma Kola was when she had her picture taken with Nobel Laureate Dr. Peter Agre, who discovered aquaporins, the protein that was the focus of her research.  

“I was able to discuss my research on aquaporins and lung cancer with Dr. Agre, who won the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering aquaporins! I still cannot fully grasp that I actually met Dr. Agre, a name that I always use when describing my research.”  

The students also met Dr. Bruce Alberts, author of Molecular Biology of the Cell, a text used often at IMSA. As one of the highlights of the conference, the students got to attend the AAAS Keynote Opening address by Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. Vice President Albert Gore.  The students described this event as one of the most inspirational talks they have had the privilege of attending.

IMSA student Jon Loucks said attending the conference was one of the most memorable events of his life.

“The AAAS experience is one that I will remember for a very long time,” Loucks said.  “Being in the presence of such great scientific leaders and having the opportunity to talk with them have really caused me to evaluate what my potential contributions to science and humanity are.”

Student Kristen Lee agreed, stating “AJAS was an amazing experience,” Lee said.  “I feel grateful to have been a part of something so incredibly special.  Listening to the AAAS presentations and speaking to the scientists have made me more confident in my decision to major in environmental sciences and become part of a world of science and research full time,” she said.

IMSA students and their research presentations included the following:

Justina Cho and Jimmy Liu:  The Efficacy of Dichloroacetate as a Novel Cancer Therapy

Sushma Kola:  Aquaporin-1: A Potential Target for Lung Cancer Therapy

Kelsey Lawhorn and Tony Yunker:  Weak Lensing Mass Estimates of Low Redshift Galaxy Clusters

Kristen Lee:  The Role of Protein Kinase C in the Degradation of the G-Protein Coupled Receptor CXCR4

Jonathan Loucks:  An Analysis of Illinois Public Schools: The Effects of Socioeconomic and Environmental Factors on a School's Ability to Meet Standards

Shailee Shah:  Dietary Intervention of Flax Seed/Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Ovarian Cancer in the Laying Hen Gallus domesticus

Jenny Shao:  A Dynamic Chaotic System Achieves One-Time Pad Perfect Secrecy via Integration of Multiple Chaotic Maps

Anisha Vyas:  Using Spectral Absorption Information to Identify Tumors

In addition, Kola and IMSA student Jasmine Kwasa co-presented a session at the Forum for School Science with IMSA President Dr. Max McGee, Dr. Oscar Becerra from the University of San Martin de Porres, Lima, Peru and Brian DeCicco with the Maya Angelou Charter School in Washington, D.C.  The session topic was Implementing what we know that works to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.  Nobel Laureate and IMSA Resident Scholar Dr. Leon Lederman moderated the session and Dr. Shirley Malcolm, Head of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs of AAAS, provided the opening remarks.

Students Kelsey Lawhorn and Anisha Vyas said presenting at AAAS provided them with real-world experience. 

“It was a wonderful opportunity to get a taste for what a real professional conference is like,” said Lawhorn.  “This experience has really opened up many opportunities for me – such as having my research published.  It was so much fun and I really learned how scientists present their research,” Vyas said. 

More information on the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting can be found at

IMSA student Jimmy Liu said it was also very rewarding to meet other students who are passionate about science.   “The AAAS conference was a really great way to learn more about some of the cutting-edge research that other high-schools are doing.” 

Kola agreed and said the conference gave her much hope for the future of scientific research.

“It was astonishing to see the wide array or research projects completed by students just like me,” she said.  “More than the science itself, I really learned that high school students across the country have the potential to make the future better, and if we join our heads, we can accomplish anything.”


Contributions by Dr. Judith Scheppler, IMSA coordinator of Student Inquiry and Research.