The novelist and inventor of earth-centered satellites Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Perry High School senior Amani Al-Rashid will get a glimpse this summer of the magic and mystery of biochemistry and molecular biology because she has been admitted to the prestigious Young Engineers and Scientists (YES) program at Iowa State University, an ISU spokesperson announced Tuesday.
Students in the summer YES program spend six weeks conducting a small, independent research project under the mentorship of faculty scientists, according to Stacy Renfro, pre-college education coordinator for the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) at ISU.
Competition for admission to the YES program is keen, Renfo said, with more than 75 students applying for the 2016 summer program and fewer than 20 admitted. Renfro said the research conducted by students in the YES program complements the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects they are interested.
Al-Rashid will begin her senior year at PHS in the fall. Her summer research in the YES program will be related to plants and biorenewables and the effort to work out how “plastics, laminates and all sorts of other materials could be made from a biorenewable chemical,” Renfro said.
“Right now the chemical that is making the materials that are probably all over your desk and in our water bottles and everything is made from a petroleum-based chemical,” Renfro said. “What we’re doing is using feedstocks and sources from Iowa to make a similar chemical that we can then use to make products from renewable sources. What Amani is doing is working on a portion of that, a very small portion.”
Al-Rashid’s research will be directed by Dr. Marna D. Yandeau-Nelson, assistant professor in the department of genetics, development and cell biology at ISU. Yandeau-Nelson’s work seeks to “integrate classical and molecular genetics with biochemical, metabolomic and computational approaches to study the biosynthetic and regulatory genetic networks of metabolic traits.”
Asked by an uncomprehending reporter to please try only to use words of one syllable, Renfro said, “Through their collaboration with a research team, students gain new insights into science and engineering content as well as how interdisciplinary research is performed. We feel it is important to recognize Amani’s efforts in choosing to participate in this program and congratulate her on this accomplishment.”
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