The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

Future Innovators Visit Northwestern

SIRS class stands together for a group photo on Northwestern’s rooftop after touring the labs

There’s an excited hum in the November air; students ranging from freshmen to seniors hop off the bus and chat as they walk to Northwestern University’s Plaza outside the Technological Institute. They’re about to meet their mentors and discuss ideas for projects that could potentially change lives.

The STEM Inquiry and Research (SIRS) class began almost 20 years ago and is now taught by chemistry teacher Parin Patel and biology teacher Tom Jodelka for the 2023-2024 school year. SIRS originally began as a way to promote students for scientific endeavors.

“We spend so much time and energy supporting students in athletic programs, but we don’t necessarily support our science and math programs. So this course was created to be one of the most crowning achievements possible for academic students in science and math,” Patel said.

The SIRS class is not an average class, students dedicate an entire year to researching a project of their own design. They come up with their own ideas, procedures, experiments, designs and more- it is completely independent, with the exception of a little help from graduate students at Northwestern.

That is exactly why the SIRS class left Niles West during eighth and ninth period to travel to one of the most renowned STEM universities.

“There was a former student at Niles West was at Northwestern, [and] they were looking for a way to connect these graduate students who really wanted to engage with research and help other students engage with research. So they created a program called MORE,” Patel said.

MORE is a program that engages students in the scientific community. It promotes research for students in Chicago and at Northwestern, involving graduate students working towards their PhD or higher levels of education based on their area of interest. Each student is paired with a mentor best suited for them, and spend the rest of the year working together and making sure to publish the best scientific research possible to present it at the Illinois Junior Academy of Science (IJAS) regional competition later in the year.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have 30+ mentors consistently every year to connect individually with students to help them facilitate their research, edit their research or find research articles to elevate their research projects. We really wanted to promote students to go to Northwestern labs and see actual science being done,” Patel said.

There were four labs the students toured around included a chemistry lab, a biology lab, a laser lab and a mechanical engineering lab. Each student was able to get a glimpse of how research outside high school would look like. For many students, it was also their first time on a college campus. For others, it was the first time they were able to indulge in an independent research project.

Scholarly conversations and curious questions were tossed around over slices of pizza that was shared after the tours were over.

“I’m currently working on evaporation cooling using terracotta,” senior Dylan Nguyen said. This is his first year in SIRS. “We were able to talk a lot about what I should do moving forward and new ideas for me. Like [how] I’ll probably use simulation software, which I hadn’t thought about when I started my project,” Nguyen said.

Many students recall their experiences in SIRS from previous years. “Last year I worked on an astronomy project using computer software to help me look at pulsars and gravitational waves. I felt really proud of it at the end of the year when I finished my investigation. At Northwestern, it’s really engaging to be in that setting because you’re in the lab looking at what they’re doing right now to advance research. Northwestern is just a really good research school, so having the opportunity to have a mentor at Northwestern is really beneficial. The field trip really helped me realize research is not always linear, it doesn’t have to be academic. It really exposed me to different opportunities and choices to go post-graduation,” senior Derek Kyan said.

Engineering, computer science, neuroscience, biology and physics– anything subject students are curious about have an opportunity to create work at a high level in the SIRS lab, with the help of specialized Northwestern graduates. Of course, the campus itself was exciting.

“I really like walking around the campus; it’s a very beautiful campus and being able to go there with my classmates and friends in little groups and it wasn’t completely led. We just wandered a little,” Nguyen said.

“We’ve met Nobel laureates, we’ve seen great projects, and it’s overall very fun,” Patel added on.

Overall, the field trip was a success! SIRS students look forward to returning to Northwestern next year; and as for this year, they continue to work hard to develop projects and studies that they believe can one day change someone’s world.

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