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Mass. high-schoolers vie at MIT for national science honors

Thirteen high school students who won first place at the 2003 Massachusetts State Science Fair at MIT in May will be back on campus on Saturday, Nov. 1--this time in the Department of Biology.

The students will compete for 130 spots at the American Junior Academy of Sciences (AJAS) poster session, part of the 2004 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Seattle in February. The poster session is an opportunity for some of the top high school science students in the country to present their research.

"This is the first time such an event is taking place," said Mandana Sassanfar, instructor in biology and science outreach coordinator for the department. "It's to ensure that talented Massachusetts high school students who produce outstanding science projects have the same opportunity as students from other states to attend the American Junior Academy of Sciences."

Sassanfar is acting director of the Massachusetts Junior Academy of Science. The mission of the academies of science is to encourage pre-college students to pursue activities and research in science, engineering and technology.

At Saturday's MIT event, to which the public is invited, each student will give a 12-minute oral presentation before one of two four-judge panels. There will be two concurrent sessions (one in biological sciences and one in engineering, math and behavioral sciences) from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in rooms 68-180 and 68-181. Participating students come from North Attleboro High School, Boston Latin Academy, Lexington High School, the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science, Revere High School, Marlborough High School and Springfield High School of Science and Technology.

The event is organized by Sassanfar and Graham C. Walker, professor of biology, American Cancer Society research professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professor. Walker also is director of the HHMI undergraduate education program at MIT, which investigates ways of increasing the appeal of science to students early in their education.

An as HHMI professor, Walker and his HHMI education group are developing new curricular materials and teaching tools for introductory college biology courses and high school biology, and new science activities with area high schools.

As the acting director of the Massachusetts Junior Academy of Science, Sassanfar, a member of the HHMI education group, selects student delegates who will represent Massachusetts at the AAAS annual meeting.

This will be the second year that Massachusetts is represented at the AJAS annual convention. Last year, seven Massachusetts students represented the state at the AAAS meeting in Denver.

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