Robert Correa, a senior at Harker Heights High School, presents findings from a research project he worked on with a mentor about how Alzheimer’s disease spreads through the brain. Twenty-six Central Texas high school students took part in a 10-week research program this summer with the Texas Bioscience Institute, culminating in a presentation Thursday at the institute’s Scott & White West Campus in Temple.

By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald

TEMPLE — A 10-week research program for high school math and science students around Central Texas culminated this week with presentations at the Texas Bioscience Institute on the Scott & White West Campus in Temple.

The 26 students in the program — 14 of whom attend a Killeen Independent School District campus — stood in the institute’s crowded hallways Thursday morning, mingling with friends, family and curious visitors.

Behind them, lining the walls, were posters summarizing their work and headlined with titles such as “Viscoelastic and Infrared Studies of Hydrogen Bonding in Amine and Ketone Systems.”

Martha Paddie, a soon-to-be senior at Killeen High School, smiled when asked if she could summarize the above-mentioned project.

“This deals with gene therapy and organic chemistry,” said Paddie, who explained her project attempts to pinpoint defects in DNA.

The research program, known as the Central Texas 2-STEP, is made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation. For the past two years, students from KISD and nearly a dozen school districts have been able to apply for the 2-STEP and the subsequent chance to work with mentors from local hospitals, universities and research centers.

In addition to attending school in their home districts, the students also are enrolled in the Texas Bioscience Institute Middle College, and thus, able to earn college credit.

Dr. John Idoux is a partner-in-residence at the Texas Bioscience Institute and the principal investigator for the program’s 2011 class. Idoux said the overall goal is to give students already inclined toward scientific studies the chance to hone their skills. A head start on their way to college is one more bonus, he said.

“This is an opportunity to enhance the interest these kids say they have in science and solidify that interest,” Idoux said. “Most of them are 17- or 18-year-olds. It really is amazing that at their age they are able to do what they’ve done.”

Paddie, who wants to attend either Texas A&M University or the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, said the summer program has left her well prepared for the future.

“This basically gets my foot in the door and sets me up to work with other people,” Paddie said. “I know now that I want to do research.”

Farther down the hallway from Paddie’s presentation, Ellison High School student Courtney Crosby explained her project dealt with molecular biology. The overall purpose, Crosby said, is to learn more about the causes of immunodeficiency diseases.

The EHS student said she has been fascinated with science since middle school. The 2-Step program, she said, has only helped that fascination grow.

“I did learn a lot about how cells work and how not to contaminate cells, especially,” she said. “It’s amazing how much you can do with one cell.”