A Tale of Two Schools: Andrew Lee goes to Singapore

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(L to R) Andrew Lee, Singaporean Terence Han, Anokhi Patel, and Singaporean Shawn Chan visit New York City as part of a collaboration between AoS and the Hwa Chang Institute. Phot courtesy of Anokhi Patel.

By Brianna Meeks

Summer is the student’s quintessential time for fun and relaxation. Some students go to the pool every day; others spend a month in some exotic place. For rising seniors, summer has the tendency to be a rather busy time. Some go to Governor’s School; others visit colleges every week. But most students can claim at least part of their summer just for themselves. This was not the case for senior Andrew Lee: his summer was filled with hours upon hours of work at Dominion High School, trying to get data that he could take on a trip to Singapore for a science research collaboration.

The Singapore project is a research collaboration between the Loudoun Academy of Science (AoS) and Hwa Chong Institute (HCI). At the end of their sophomore year, AoS students can submit science research project proposals to George Wolfe, the director of AoS. Wolfe and the directors of HCI choose six or seven project proposals, and for each project, two AoS students are partnered with two HCI students to work on complementary projects. Lee was one of those chosen students, along with his partner, Anokhi Patel, a senior at Stone Bridge High School. Their project: To make paper from bacteria using waste products.

How do bacteria do that? Well, bacteria do cool things. We’ll leave the rest of the brainwork to Lee and Patel.

Other than being science-related, AoS-HCI projects have a certain degree of diversity. Other AoS-HCI projects included designing hockey helmets and reducing the UV sensitivity of cells.

In October, the HCI students came to the United States to plan their projects with their AoS partners. However, the duration of the trip was not dominated by work, but rather by bonding. AoS and HCI students alike even took a field trip to New York City just to have fun and sightsee. Alas, the fun was short-lived, and the HCI students had to go back to Singapore so that all students involved could start their research.

After spending an entire school year doing research, Lee and all the other students chosen for Singapore spent almost all of their summer going to Dominion High School to try and get data. On any given day during the summer, you could probably find at least one person in the building doing research. If you listened closely enough, you could even hear their mournful sighs and frustrated exclamations. The students had many hurdles to overcome, and the mountain of pressure loomed higher after days of seeing infected cells, broken equipment, or otherwise malfunctioning projects.

All juniors and seniors at AoS do research, regardless of whether they participate in the Singapore project or not. Research at AoS is stressful for anybody, but Singapore projects have even more pressure to get results. “We had partners [in Singapore] that needed our data. It was for their final grade,” shared Lee. “It’s okay not to get data at AoS, but we needed to have a completed project. A lot of the stuff didn’t start working until right before we needed it. But it turned out fine.”

Once in Singapore, the group had to present their research, a surprisingly low-key process considering all the pressure and work it took to get to that point. Lee, Patel, and their partners received a “High Distinction” award, akin to an Honorable Mention. The rest of the experience was highlighted by sightseeing in Singapore. Just as the US was foreign to the HCI, Singapore was a unique experience for AoS students, who found it an incredibly hot and humid city, distinct also in the access to public transportation everywhere. The experience was better than the city, says Lee, adding, “I don’t know if I’d want to live there just because the weather’s so horrible.”

A summer destroyed? Not so to Lee. “I definitely liked research,” he said, “and it was really cool to see how the different cultures were really similar. They worry about the same things we do, like school and college.”